If you were arrested and charged right now, you'd either have to wait in jail until your trial, or post bail (to act as collateral) and be released. If you show up to your trial, the bail amount is returned. But what if you didn't have the money to pay your bail out-of-pocket, and what if waiting in jail for months would cost you your job? That's where bail bonds come in. These privately-owned companies front the bail for you, but ultimately you owe them some chunk of it (sometimes 10%). It's a multi-billion dollar industry in California.
Prop 25 is straight-forward. A Yes vote would get rid of the cash bail system and replace it with a risk assessment system – how likely is the individual to flee or cause harm? A No would keep cash bail. The state already voted to end cash bail in 2018, making it the first state to do so, but the bail bond industry collected enough signatures to put Prop 25 on the ballot as a last-ditch effort to save themselves from extinction.
Under the proposed new system, people placed in jail for most misdemeanors will be automatically released after 12 hours. People placed in jail for felonies or some misdemeanors would be assessed for their risk for flight or danger to the public. Based on the assessment, the court would release "low-risk" and some "medium-risk" individuals, potentially with additional supervision, such as check-ins by a staff member or an ankle monitor.
Some crimes would automatically disqualify the individual from release, and they would be jailed until their trial. These include certain sex offenses, domestic violence, stalking, violating a restraining order, a third DUI, threatening a witness, or if the person was recently convicted of a felony.
Critics of Prop 25 argue that the new system might be more biased because 1) the proposition says an "algorithm" would need to be developed to help judges assess risk and 2) because pre-trial imprisonment would be up to a judge, it can be abused.
Supporters of Prop 25 say that the algorithm will simply be another aid to judges. Judges ultimately have a lot of discretion, but that's a good thing, supporters say, because in case this system is not good at first, they would adjust their approach. They also say that determining a person's pre-trial release based on risk rather than their wealth is a much fairer system. Lives have been upended because they've had to spend months in jail, despite being presumably innocent, and all because they couldn't afford bail. The current system disproportionally affects Black and Latino people, who are more likely to be low-income.