Newsletter: Cash bail is ending in L.A. County. We help you understand why that’s a good thing

Bail bond businesses are seen outside Men's Central Jail near downtown L.A..
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. Let’s look back at the week in Opinion.

Sunday, Los Angeles County enters a new, more fair era of criminal justice by moving into a system in which most people arrested for low-level offenses are no longer jailed in the days before their arraignment. This transformation is a politically charged one, with police groups and politicians misleadingly sounding the alarm over “zero bail,” feeding off the popular anxiety over several recent brazen, high-profile thefts.

Before dismissing L.A. County’s thoughtfully considered, years-long transformation as more ideologically driven than public safety-minded, ask yourself two questions: Generally, do you think people should be able to buy themselves out of incarceration if they have the money to do so? And do you think the state should be able to punish people accused of crimes before they are convicted?


If you answered yes to either question, then there isn’t much that reading the editorial board’s series on bail reform can do to convince you that L.A. County is taking the right path. But I think it’s safe to guess that most readers — and probably most voters too — would answer no without hesitation, standing on the bedrock principle of equality under the law.

But plenty of those readers might understandably have reservations about bail reform in L.A. County, which can be more accurately understood as the end of most pre-arraignment detention (read this editorial for an explanation on that). They hear police chiefs warn of ending consequences for breaking the law, unaware that these trusted law enforcement officials (including, as The Times’ editorial board notes, the chief of the Los Angeles Police department) misrepresent the purpose of pretrial detention. They see political leaders too afraid to defend the new system or at least help voters understand it, which the editorial board says needs to change. They may have been confused by the bail bond industry’s successful effort in 2020 to put the state’s 2018 reform law on the ballot for a vote. They may be confused by what bail actually is (the editorial board gives a hint: Whatever you think is probably wrong).

Los Angeles County begins this new chapter in public safety Sunday. A great way to understand why we’re here and why these changes deserve the public’s confidence is to read the editorial board’s series on bail reform.

The writers’ strike is over, but in one important area the deal falls short. The Writers Guild of America won a lot in its agreement with studios that ended its months-long strike, including pay raises and some protection amid advances in artificial intelligence. But streaming is where the money is at, and SAG-AFTRA member Nelson Cheng says the WGA missed an opportunity to make streaming residuals the central part of its deal with studios.

Is it time for a federal judge to put a gag order on Donald Trump? Maybe, says former U.S. attorney Harry Litman: “I expect [U.S. District Judge Tanya] Chutkan to impose some form of limited gag order on Trump; the record supporting it is too strong to ignore. It may even be accompanied by a tongue-lashing of the former president. Her goal will be to save room for intermediate forms of discipline that keep Trump in line and stave off lowering the ultimate boom and putting him in jail.”

Can’t afford a house in L.A.? Here’s how that happened. Researcher Becky Nicolaides charts the growth in income and the increase in housing prices in L.A. County over several decades, and says the yawning gap between the two is alarming and unsustainable. Using the old rule of thumb that a home’s price should be no more than 2 1/2 times a buyer’s annual pay, a family earning the median household income of $92,800 can afford to spend $245,500. Problem is, the median home price in L.A. County last month was close to $1 million.

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It’s not a debate — Republicans want Trump vs. Biden in an apocalyptic battle. The former president is running away with his party’s nomination, and CNN commentator Scott Jennings explains why: “Republicans desperately want vindication. For all of it. For the Russia investigation. For the impeachments. For the indictments. For the 2020 election. For Jan. 6. For Biden’s presidency. They want one big apocalyptic contest that they think will deliver what they want to hear: Trump. Was. Right.”

Federal funding for child care is about to fall off a cliff, causing a disaster. Today, $39 billion in federal child-care funds made available through the American Rescue Plan Act are set to expire. This comes after Congress let the Child Tax Credit lapse in 2022. Education researcher Rebecca E. Gomez warns that, among other consequences, up to 3.2 million children in America could soon lose their spots in early childhood education programs.

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