Three summers ago, Ato Walker had to buy his freedom after being jailed on charges that were later dropped. It took $8,500 of his mom’s pension to get him out so he could get back to work and provide for his family.
Walker has since become a prominent example of how California’s for-profit bail industry unfairly punishes the poor. In op-eds, interviews and speeches at the Capitol alongside rapper-activist Common, the San Jose father of one has used his story to lobby for legislation that would replace money bail with pretrial risk assessments.
Last week, Walker appeared on an MSNBC panel to once again talk about the need for reform. Sporting a Silicon Valley De-Bug “Protect Your People” shirt, he shared the segment with American Bail Coalition spokesman Jeff Clayton and Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), who joined forces with state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) on the California Bail Reform Act of 2017.
The legislation takes a cue from Santa Clara County, which enacted sweeping reforms to base pretrial incarceration on calculated risk rather than wealth. By supervising roughly 1,400 defendants in the community, the county says it saves about $265,000 a year on detention costs. San Jose Inside reported on the systemic abuses of the local bail industry last year, when the Board of Supervisors voted to move away from the for-profit model. (Click here to read our coverage of the issue.)
Though Gov. Jerry Brown announced Friday that negotiations over the ambitious bill will have to wait until next year, Walker plans to continue his activism.
“One of my goals is to get people to look at this issue from a human perspective,” he told San Jose Inside. “We have to get people, get these representatives to realize that it’s important to do what’s right for our communities.”