Momentum against California's bail system has been building in the last year or so. Critics argue that inability to pay is no reason to be punished before one's case can be heard by a judge or jury.
The system often means that those who plead not guilty to serious misdemeanor and felony allegations will be put behind bars until their hearing and trial dates unless they can come up with a lot of cash. Even the 10 percent down payment that bail bonds firms often require can be prohibitive. Early this year personal finance site Bankrate.com concluded that nearly six in 10 Americans couldn't come up with $500 in an emergency.
Against that backdrop, the nonprofit social justice studio Brave New Films has created the Bail Trap video game to drive the point home that Californians are being punished — without due process — for being poor. The online journey includes three characters, each with different outcomes: Kevin, the white IT manager, has the cash to walk away from his predicament, but Theresa, a college student, and Julio, a construction worker, face more difficult paths.
“The point of the game is to illustrate how people who are poor are disproportionately disadvantaged by the money bail system,” says Tara Vajra, Brave New Films' head of production. “I'm hoping it would be a game that would show a little taste of the experience and the frustration.”
Emilia Larsen designed the 8-bit game. “I pretty much was thinking of a choose-your-own-adventure kind of story,” she says. “But when you go through the bail system, you don't have much of a choice.”
The game was not specifically designed to support legislation by state Sen. Bob Herzberg of Van Nuys, but its creators definitely want to see such bail reform move forward, Vajra says. SB 10 would reduce bail amounts and require risk-of-flight assessments before the release of allegedly violent suspects. “The bill would require the court to set monetary bail at the least restrictive level necessary to assure the appearance of the defendant,” according to Hertzberg's office.
It's headed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, according to a spokesman for the senator.
Earlier this week, California legislators announced that rapper-actor Common has joined the cause of bail reform and improved juvenile justice. “Common and the new generation of 'woke' entertainers are speaking up and out on behalf of men and women of color who are disproportionately represented in a criminal justice system,” Los Angeles state Sen. Holly Mitchell said in a statement.