The ACLU Foundation of Northern California denounces actions taken by Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager and Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward to keep people in jail during the COVID-19 crisis by circumventing and opposing the emergency bail schedule established by the Judicial Council of California on April 6. Both of these elected District Attorneys are deliberately ignoring the advice of medical experts, choosing to flout mandatory statewide directives intended to save lives by reducing the number of people held in pretrial detention.
The new schedule sets bail at $0 for most misdemeanor offenses and many felony offenses, and took effect on Monday, April 13. It applies to every accused person arrested and in pretrial custody. This schedule has the greatest impact on low-income black and brown people who are disproportionately unable to afford bail and, as recent statewide COVID-19 demographic data shows, are at higher risk of infection and death.
In response to the Council’s mandate, District Attorney Fladager announced a new blanket policy to charge burglaries, grand theft, and petty theft as looting to get around the bail schedule and keep people in custody. In a similarly defiant move, the office of District Attorney Ward is filing hundreds of motions to oppose the release of individuals whose alleged offenses fall within the $0 bail list.
The bail schedule recognizes that the spread of COVID-19 in jails can only be controlled by reducing the number of people in detention. Public health experts agree that reducing jail and prison populations is a medical necessity. Incarcerated people face unsanitary conditions and cannot socially distance, making jails a hotspot for COVID-19 outbreaks. There have already been dozens of cases at multiple jails and prisons in California, and thousands of cases across the country.
The ACLU calls on all elected District Attorneys to comply with the mandatory bail schedule and release as many people as possible from their county jails. Failure to act will result in significant public health consequences for people in jail and the wider community.
Stanislaus DA policy: http://www.stanislaus-da.org/pdf/news/2020/press-release-20200408-looting.pdf
Data on statewide racial disparities in COVID-19 infections and deaths: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/Race-Ethnicity.aspx