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San Francisco Trying to Reform Bail System with New Tech Tool

Posted by Seth Chazin | Aug 06, 2016 | 0 Comments


San Francisco is looking into using a new tool that employs a computer algorithm to determine what amount is most appropriate when setting bail.  The algorithm looks at factors such as whether a defendant may reoffend or not return for court appearances if freed from jail. The bail system in San Francisco has been a major issue, as many people believe it has disproportionally discriminated against the poor, not to mention, resulted in racial bias. 

Judges in San Francisco, and throughout California, have relied on state guidelines known as “bail schedules,” that set bail amounts based on a defendant's charges.

Those critical of the bail system in place have  complained that many defendants who are suitable for release on their own recognizance have been forced to spend weeks, or even months, in jail just because they could not raise the money to pay for unreasonable amounts of bail

The tool that San Francisco has been testing does not set a bail amount based on the alleged crime.  Instead, it looks at a number of factors including previous charges, pending charges, age, and the defendant's history  of failing to appear in court. The tool then provides a final conclusion as to whether or not the defendant should be released or whether they should be detained and a bail amount set.  The judge is free to accept the recommendation or reject it

The algorithm, offered to the city for free, was developed by the Texas-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation which uses data from the case histories of more than 1.5 million people. San Francisco is 1 of 30 jurisdictions to use this tool. 

At any given time, about 80 to 85 percent of inmates in county jails awaiting trial, cannot afford bail.  If this tool is implemented as a means for judges to determine reasonable bail,less people will be be held in jail as a result of  their inability to afford unreasonably high bail amounts. Those who are stuck in jail due to unreasonably high bail are not able to work and support their families, resulting in greater financial consequences to  innocent family members, including many children.  For further information on bail and how the criminal justice system works, see

About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 30 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.


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“The death penalty is a lie, a misguided mistake born of anger and frustration. Capital punishment has become a perverse monument to inequality, to how some lives matter and others do not. It is a violent example of how we protect and value the rich and abandon and devalue the poor. The death penalty is a grim, disturbing shadow formed by the legacy of racial apartheid and bias against the poor that condemns the disfavored among us, but corrupts us all. It’s the perverse symbol elected officials use to strengthen their ‘tough on crime’ reputations and distract us from confronting the causes of violence. It is finally the enemy of grace, redemption and all of us who recognize that each person is more than their worse act.”
- Bryan Stevenson