Santa Clara County pilot program to up bail for repeat offenders
The San Jose Police Department has not been able to find a qualified candidate to fill its senior analyst position to advance its racial equity goals. File photo.

Local law enforcement agencies in Santa Clara County want higher bail for repeat offenders, in what they say is a move to reduce recidivism.

A pilot program developed by the Santa Clara County District Attorney, county office of pretrial services,  sheriff’s department and the San Jose Police Department will amend a form officers use when booking someone arrested for a crime. The modified form provides more space to explain why the person booked should have higher or lower bail. Leaders say the intent is to reduce recidivism and cut the number of people who are rearrested multiple times – but not everyone believes this approach is genuine or will make a positive difference.

Critics say most of the people targeted struggle with either homelessness, mental illness or  addiction problems. Higher bail will not help the individual or the community, said Molly O’Neal, public defender for Santa Clara County. There is no correlation between higher bail and reduced recidivism or increased public safety, she said – on the contrary, it just disadvantages those without means.

“Raising bail just serves to give the community a false sense of arriving at a solution to a problem that needs an innovative and service-heavy response,” O’Neal told San José Spotlight. “Most people are going to reenter the community and holding them for a few days or a few weeks longer does not serve any real purpose.”

O’Neal added the pilot program also appears to circumvent the Humphrey 2021 decision, where the California Supreme Court ruled that setting a bail amount someone cannot afford is unconstitutional.

The San Jose Police Department has been working to address a trend where individuals who repeatedly commit crimes are released before trial. San Jose allocated $300,000 last year in overtime for officers who rearrest repeat offenders – to date just $60,000 has been paid out – even though SJPD overtime is at an all-time high. Police asked the San Jose City Council last week to use the remaining $240,000 to back the new pilot program, which council leaders unanimously approved.

Police will use the form for the next three months starting Oct.1, and will come back to analyze its effectiveness, according to SJPD Lt. Steven Donohue. The idea is that higher bail will retain repeat offenders longer – preventing them from committing more crimes.

In a single 14-month period, SJPD arrested and re-arrested 30 individuals at least 10 times, with one person arrested 19 times, according to city data from 2022.

Sean Webby, spokesman for the District Attorney’s office, said the form simply gives judges more information when making a decision.

“Things like whether the person has ongoing access to the victim of the crime, does the person have access to weapons, has the person been arrested for similar conduct in the past,” Webby told San José Spotlight. “More complete information makes for better decisions, and where judges did not know about the risks at the time of booking, they were making decisions without all the information that they needed.”

Representatives from Silicon Valley De-Bug, a community organizing group that represents families of those killed by police, asked the council to use the remaining $240,000 on alternatives to police that would address the root causes of recidivism.

Councilmembers said they are supportive of creating a program in the future that would provide services instead of incarceration for those rearrested multiple times — but for right now, the amended form looks like an effective approach.

“It’s clearly ineffective to continue to arrest and release people and just hope they’ll magically be recidivised or improved,” Councilmember Peter Ortiz said. “However, I also see on (my district in the) east side, many of our immigrant small businesses are becoming prey to robberies… it’s imperative that we really tackle the root cause of dangerous behavior.”

Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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