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Online Extra: Gays Across America: HRW says CA bail practices punish the poor

by Seth Hemmelgarn

An inmate who did not want their face shown sits in the<br>housing area used for transgender inmates at a San Francisco jail in 2015.<br>Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland <br><br>
An inmate who did not want their face shown sits in the
housing area used for transgender inmates at a San Francisco jail in 2015.
Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland 


Human rights advocates are highlighting concerns that California's bail system punishes people for being poor as two bills that would change the current system make their way through the state Legislature.

In a report released Tuesday (April 11), Human Rights Watch said that approximately 63 percent of people being kept in county jails haven't been sentenced, and many haven't even had trials.

In its report, "'Not in it for Justice': How California's Pretrial Detention and Bail System Unfairly Punishes Poor People" (, HRW found that almost half a million people who were held in jail were eventually found not guilty, had cases that were dismissed, or had evidence against them that was so flimsy that prosecutors never filed charges.

"Bail in California punishes poor people," said John Raphling, a senior U.S. researcher for HRW and the report's author. "The state's broken system gives many people the miserable choice of being locked up, going into massive debt to pay bail, or pleading guilty without a chance to fight their case."

The California Money Bail Reform Act of 2017, introduced as Senate Bill 10 and Assembly Bill 42 would make it so rather than requiring money bail payments in every case, judges would have to review cases individually to determine the terms of release, according to the statewide Courage Campaign, which is urging people to sign an online petition supporting the legislation.

HRW conducted interviews with 151 people, including 67 who'd been jailed before trial or who'd supported a family member who was in jail. The organization also talked to judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and others. Researchers reviewed data from 20 counties, including San Francisco and Alameda.

"The data analysis supports what many court professionals confirm: People in custody often plead guilty not because they are guilty, but simply to get out of jail," HRW said in a news release.

The organization also found that in each county it looked at, black people were booked into jail at a rate much higher than the rate for white people. In San Francisco, for example, bail-eligible black people were jailed nine times more often than white people, when population size was taken into account.

In its report, HRW doesn't mention SB 10 or AB 42 specifically, but it's warning against legislation that would rely on "profile-based risk assessment tools," since, among other concerns, "they use racially biased arrest and conviction data to make decisions about who stays in jail and who is released or placed under pretrial supervision."

In an email exchange with the Bay Area Reporter, Raphling said, "At least some of the stories in the report involve LGBT prisoners, though that aspect of their lives was not featured or necessarily noted in our interviews."

Courage Campaign is urging people to support the legislation ahead of a "crucial" Tuesday, April 18 hearing at the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

"Under the current money bail system, people who've been accused of a crime are assigned a bail amount based on the crime they've been accused of. And if they can't afford the bail, they're stuck in jail â€" regardless of whether they're guilty or innocent," an email from the campaign said. "Prosecutors use money bail as a tool to extract guilty pleas from people even when they've done nothing wrong. It's completely unjust."

The petition is available at


Orlando shooter's widow sent back to Florida

Noor Salman, the widow of Omar Mateen, who fatally shot 49 people and wounded 53 others at Orlando, Florida's gay Pulse nightclub in June, is being sent back to Florida to face federal charges related to the attack. Meanwhile, a civil lawsuit against her has been dismissed.

Salman, 30, has been in custody in Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, California since January, when she was arrested at her family's home in the nearby city of Rodeo.

She's pleaded not guilty to charges from the U.S. Department of Justice that she aided and abetted his support of the terrorist group ISIS and obstructed justice. Mateen, 29, died in a shootout with police during the June 12 incident. The couple were living in Ft. Pierce, Florida at the time of the shooting.

According to a joint motion filed by Salman's attorneys and prosecutors, Salman waived her right to have a removal hearing and consented being moved back to Florida.

In an April 5 order, U.S. Magistrate Donna Ryu ordered that authorities in Orlando notify the U.S. attorney and court clerk in Florida when Salman arrives "so that further proceedings may be promptly scheduled."

Ryu had previously ruled that Salman should be released after her family put up their homes to secure her bond, but a Florida judge overturned that decision.

Several families of victims of the Pulse shooting, along with survivors, had filed a civil lawsuit against Salman and the security company that had employed Mateen, but a judge dismissed the case last week.

The civil complaint was originally filed Friday in federal court but was moved to a Florida state court after a U.S. district judge indicated federal court wasn't the proper place for it, according to news reports.

In his order April 4, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra said the court had dismissed the case March 23 but had given plaintiffs 10 days to amend it.

"To date, no amended pleading has been filed," Marra said. "Accordingly, it is hereby ordered and adjudged that the case is closed and all pending motions are denied as moot."


Gays Across America is a column addressing LGBTQ issues nationwide. It runs most Tuesdays. Please submit comments or column ideas to Seth Hemmelgarn at (415) 875-9986 or .


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