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Zero-bail policy instituted during pandemic ends in San Diego County jails

Starting Sunday, those charges that qualified for zero bail will have set bail amounts imposed again.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — A policy that reduced certain misdemeanor offenses to zero bail throughout the San Diego County jail system, which was instituted to reduce the overall jail population during the COVID-19 pandemic, will be rescinded as of Sunday, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said Friday.

“The bail system, in general, is very classist and impacts people of color more heavily,” said Yusef Miller with the North County Equity and Justice Coalition. He believes the cash bail system as a whole is rigged against poor people who cannot afford to bail out while favoring those who can.

“It tends to be people in the lower class economically that can’t afford to bail out either way, so then they have to suffer and wait for these delayed trials until they have their hearing,” said Miller. “The trauma of being behind bars can be devastating to their careers, devastating to their job and their families. It can affect your income, [and] your family status. It can disrupt your whole life and then it feels like you have to start all over.”

Grassroots organizations like the Dede McClure Community Bail Fund have been working against what they call the “devastating effects of the cash bail system” by bailing out women and mothers arrested for low level offenses.

“We will continue to fight against unfairness based on poverty and based on classism,” said a spokesperson for the Dede McClure Community Bail Fund.

The ‘Zero Bail’ policy was first implemented in early 2020 so as to reduce COVID cases within the jail population. Critics say the policy was problematic, allowing for more crime and less consequences with a ‘book and release’ type of policy for law enforcement. Others think it was a step in the right direction.

According to a sheriff's department statement, a "significant decrease" in the county jail system's COVID-19 cases played a large role in a San Diego Superior Court order rescinding the zero-bail policy. Starting Sunday, those charges that qualified for zero bail will have set bail amounts imposed again. Those amounts will be based on those outlined in the San Diego Superior Court Bail Schedule.

The sheriff's department said the change "is likely to increase population numbers in the San Diego County jails."

“We have the highest incarceration rate in the world and we need to fix that,” said Miller. “That is a broken system and that system needs to be repaired. I wish we would look at it in a way that’s from our souls, our heart, and thinking of people and their families, and people over profit and try to make sure that we change the system.”

While the zero-bail policy will be rescinded, a recent California Supreme Court ruling which holds that courts must consider an individual's ability or inability to pay when considering bail remains in place. The Humphrey decision holds that judges must mainly weigh a pre-trial detainee's dangerousness and risk of flight when ruling whether they should remain in custody.

WATCH RELATED: Violent crime, property crime rises in San Diego County in 2021 (April 19, 2022)


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