California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law this week a plan, years in the making, to end the use of cash bail in the state’s criminal justice system. But what once promised to be an unambiguous policy victory for the most progressive state in the country seems instead to have become a lesson in the inherent political and legal difficulties of enacting criminal justice reform.
The law has exposed deep fissures within the criminal justice reform movement. Social justice advocates that had once championed the initiative to abolish cash bail mobilized against the final iteration of the bill, which they saw as having morphed from righteous to dangerous. John Legend, the singer, activist and California resident, channeled those critiques last week when he pleaded over Twitter to the governor, “@JerryBrownGov #BailReform is needed, but NOT #SB10 which replaces the predatory for-profit bail system with a system that threatens to expand unfair incarceration of communities of color.”