County Jail Populations: What does it all mean?

Determining how bail procedure and policy can be reformed requires an understanding of how criminal defendants are affected by the current bail system. County jails are one place to start. These institutions house both inmates who have been sentenced for a crime and are serving time, and those who have not yet been through court proceedings and remain unsentenced. All inmates entering the jail system are classified in terms of risk level. This classification of high, medium or low risk determines how the inmate is housed. I plan to explore how the classification process works, what factors are examined, how they are weighted and how the final classification is arrived at. Additionally, I hope to determine the average number of inmates of each risk level housed on a daily basis, and how many days these individuals spend in custody prior to sentencing. The next step is to determine whether the identified low-risk unsentenced individuals are in custody because they were denied bail, because they cannot afford bail, or because they choose not to pay bail. The answers to these questions may help us find ways to reform the bail system in a way that allows more unsentenced people to remain out of custody while still ensuring public safety.

My name is Marjorie Sheldon and I am a third-year student at Santa Clara University School of Law. My focus is on criminal defense and working for fairness for all in the justice system. I have served as an intern at the Santa Clara County Office of the Public Defender for the past year and a half and have also volunteered with and taken the class offered by the Northern California Innocence Project. My work has brought me into contact with many defendants who are poorly served by the bail system. I hope this project can make bail more equitable for those who must navigate the court system.