The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously passed six recommendations from a final Bail and Release Work Group consensus report that will eventually offer low-income, low-risk and non-violent offenders in Santa Clara County an opportunity to leave jail while waiting for trial.
Santa Clara County Board Supervisor Cindy Chavez said the goal of the recommendations is to make sure people who commit low-level crimes and can't afford bail have a chance to leave jail while awaiting trial with the goal of ensuring public safety at the same time.
All of the final judgments for release will still be left up to a judge.
The work group has been discussing the six recommendations for two years, Chavez said.
Among the more noteworthy recommendations passed is a recommendation to fund bail for low-income inmates from a community-based fund. Chavez said she considers it to be one of the most groundbreaking of the recommendations.
"It's passed and it's pretty phenomenal. It's a very different approach. We'll be the first in the state to do this," she said.
"What this is offering is a community-based bail fund which would start with part of the money coming from the county with a matching amount coming from a private entity," Chavez said. "Now, this (matching contribution amount) can be from a foundation, this can be a donation, it can be any amount of things."
The next step for the community bail recommendation is for a request for proposals from nonprofit groups in the county to operate the community-based fund. The county expects, if all things go according to plan, to have this program running by October 2018.
According to Chavez, the work group's focus in crafting the recommendations was to maintain public safety while keeping violent offenders in jail and keeping those who aren't considered violent out.
Another recommendation that was approved is to have low-risk inmates who can't afford bail be released on electronic surveillance.
The program will be monitored by the department of corrections, which will work with the county administration, county counsel and the district attorney's office to develop rules and regulations for the program by December. A pilot program for misdemeanor cases will then start in January 2018 and reports tracking the program's performance will be expected every December.
"The reason this was significant today is what we've essentially done is implemented it, now we have to study it," Chavez said Tuesday. "We have to make sure it works."
The recommendation's projected fiscal impact claims that savings from reduced jail time should outweigh the cost of extra ankle bracelets.
Another community-based recommendation suggested is to start a community release project where community-based organizations will monitor defendants released before trial. The groups would ensure those defendants make court appearances and avoid new offenses. A request for proposals from groups interested in managing the program is estimated to be complete by April 2018 with the program starting in October of that year.
The group also suggested that a domestic violence-specific risk assessment tool be deployed during the pre-trial phase of a domestic violence suspect being processed into the jail to determine their likelihood of assaulting a victim again.
The tool, known as the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment tool, will be evaluated by a third-party over the next few years to ensure there is no racial bias in the system delivering its results. Although results are expected to come in as early as October or November 2018, full results to see whether the system is being racially biased against suspects may not be known for years, county officials said.
Also among other recommendations approved is one to collect and share data on the performance of suspects released on bail bonds without pretrial supervision, information the county said is currently not available.
The data will be collected and reported to the Public Safety and Justice Committee on a bi-annual basis starting in February 2018, the county said.
According to Chavez, an estimated 55,000 people are processed into the county jail each year, which houses an average of 4,000 inmates in one night, she said. Chavez estimated that the cost for an inmate to spend the night at the jail is somewhere between $120 and $190.
In addition, Chavez claimed that roughly 90 percent of the people who enter the jail eventually get out anyways.
"We want them to get out with a job, with connections to their family and with connections to the community because our ultimate goal is to keep the community safe and don't have people commit other crimes," Chavez said.