Zero-Bail Takes Effect in L.A. County. What Will the Impact Be?

A controversial zero-bail policy took effect in Los Angeles County on Sunday, October 1. Under the new Pre-Arraignment Release Protocols (PARP), only the most serious crimes will warrant cash bail. For most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, including theft and vandalism, suspects will be cited and released in the field or released at a station with orders to appear in court at a later date. 

The policy was ushered in by a pair of court decisions earlier this year. In May, a Superior Court judge ruled the cash bail system unconstitutional. That decision was upheld in July.

Law enforcement and city officials have expressed concerns that the new policy will act as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. On Friday, 12 L.A. County cities announced a lawsuit seeking to block its implementation: Arcadia, Artesia, Covina, Downey, Glendora, Industry, Lakewood, La Verne, Palmdale, Santa Fe Springs, Vernon and Whittier. 

“This zero-bail schedule is just another policy that leaves us less safe than we should be," said Whittier Mayor Joe Vinatieri.  

The shift comes as counties like L.A. battle a surge of organized retail theft. State and local leaders have been scrambling to address the public’s frustration over so-called “flash mob” robberies.

“Seeing that there has been a lot of robberies at local malls and department stores, it’s saddening to see it happen and people getting away with it,” Glendora business owner Ronnie Salazar told KTLA. “If we don’t have product, we can’t sell it and it’s very saddening to see that policy could potentially affect so many businesses here.”  

County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who supports zero-bail, says that characterization is inaccurate.

“It's really dangerous for us to conflate bail with accountability,” she said. 

Proponents of PARP point out that it only deals with pre-trial detention. The goal of zero-bail is to create a more equitable system where severity of the alleged offense, not wealth, determines whether a person can await due process inside or outside of a jail cell.

PARP advocates also point to a report prepared by the county last year that analyzed temporary zero-bail policies during the pandemic. The county concluded failure-to-appear and re-arrest rates “remained either below or similar to their historical average.” 

But a separate analysis conducted by Yolo County yielded very different results. That study found a 78% re-arrest rate for offenders released on zero bail compared to 46% for those who posted bail. Re-offense was 70% higher for zero-bail releasees compared to those who posted bail. People released on zero bail were arrested for more crimes and they committed new violent offenses more often.

“They ignored the only thorough comparative study in CA on Zero Bail and its impact on statewide crime. My county,” Yolo District Attorney Jeff Reisig said Sunday. "What our 2023 study found was frightening: 163% more crime + 200% more violent crime committed in CA by arrestees released from jail on Zero Bail.”

All eyes are on L.A. County as it embarks on this experiment. The fight will play out on the streets and in the courts, and is sure to be a key issue in local elections.