SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- Reforms to the bail system could soon open jail cells in Santa Clara County, allowing hundreds of people waiting for their day in court to walk free.
Hundreds of inmates in Santa Clara County's jail system stay behind bars only because they can't afford bail.
But a new reform proposal would eliminate bail requirements for certain types of crimes -- giving those defendants their freedom while they wait for their day in court.
"The bail reform initiated in Santa Clara County is huge, it's a big deal. In fact, it is a game changer," said KPIX legal analyst LaDoris Cordell.
Cordell, a retired judge, says the jails are full of people who have the right to be out, and would be out, if they were wealthier.
"So basically, the bail system has been discriminating against poor people, many of whom are people of color," Cordell said. "What Santa Clara County has done under Supervisor Chavez is turn that upside down."
The proposal is facing strong opposition from the bail industry.
"I think you have a real public safety issue here," says bail bondsman Jeff Stanley.
Stanley is the owner of Bad Boys Bail Bonds -- the largest operator in Santa Clara County -- and says without the financial incentive for defendants to return to court, many will skip town.
"With bail, there's a good chance we're going to have a family member co-sign for that defendant. Mama's going to make sure that Johnny is doing what he is supposed to, that he's showing up to his court dates," Stanley said.
The proposal is looking at public or nonprofit alternatives to commercial bail bonds.
Cordell says the proposal could force judges to better evaluate defendants, instead of just following a form that says a certain crime gets a certain bail.
"What has become the equation is, basically, here's the schedule, if you don't have the money, you are going to stay in jail. It has nothing to do, basically, with whether they pose a risk to society [while] awaiting trial," says Cordell.
Besides making the system more fair, Santa Clara County officials say it could save the county money. They estimate that not paying for the defendant to stay in jail could save the county about $200 per inmate, per day.
Other cities in the United States are trying to improve bail systems by using technology. In New York City -- instead of paying bail -- low risk defendants receive text reminders to appear in court.
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