Students from UCLA School of Law have made an impact on one of the signature criminal justice issues of our time: reform of the money bail system.
This school year, UCLA Law’s Criminal Justice Program launched an innovative program in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s office and the Bail Project. The initiative aims to lower or eliminate the bail for people who have been charged with felonies and who might face lengthy pretrial stays behind bars only because they cannot afford bail.
In the program’s first semester, 10 UCLA Law students worked with public defenders at the Los Angeles Superior Court in Compton to prepare for and argue bail hearings in criminal court. They aimed to secure lower bail for their clients or have their clients released on their own recognizance.
Students worked closely with their clients’ families and community supporters to present judges with whole pictures of their clients, and they achieved several positive results. In six cases, clients were released on their own recognizance after bail had originally been set at between $30,000 and $70,000 and clients had been incarcerated for between 5 and 16 weeks. Three of those clients were ordered into drug-treatment facilities where they maintained contact with their families and jobs while awaiting trial. One client saw bail reduced from $30,000 to $3,000, and the bail was then paid by the Bail Project, allowing the client to live in the community while awaiting trial. His case was ultimately dismissed.
The Bail Project is a national organization led by Robin Steinberg to address the inequities of the money bail system. In 2018, Steinberg joined UCLA Law as the Gilbert Foundation Senior Fellow in Criminal Justice. Steinberg and Alicia Virani ’11, a former deputy public defender in Orange County who is now the associate director of the Criminal Justice Program, co-teach the bail practicum.
“This pilot program has the potential to grow and improve the criminal justice system in Los Angeles, and it is providing our law students with an unparalleled opportunity to gain courtroom experience while still in law school,” says UCLA Law professor Máximo Langer, faculty director of the Criminal Justice Program. “Working with our partners in the public defender’s office and with the Bail Project, we hope to improve outcomes for people and communities throughout Los Angeles.”