South Bay Activist Appears on MSNBC to Discuss Bail Reform

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.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. I have what I believe to be a helpful suggestion for avoiding the terribly unfair bail system: don’t commit any crimes.

  2. I’m really interested in the opinion of a guy, already in his mid-thirties, who had to turn to his mommy for bail after he managed to escalate a parking violation into an arrest situation. According to information on the web, this obviously accomplished and responsible father’s lawsuit against us — San Jose taxpayers, was dismissed with prejudice.

    That said, thanks SJI for another glimpse into the bottom of the barrel.


      Thank you for giving me an opportunity to recall those early years of my entitlement… the damp mornings in the bean rows… the blistering heat of the prune orchard… the flies and sulphur stench of the apricot sheds… the racket and monotony of the cannery. Had I been arrested I could’ve bailed myself out.

      And that was all before age 18.

      I’m sure the fat head reformer had it a lot harder.

  3. Give them a shot at O.R. release…And if the risk is too high…then attach a monetary resposibility/reason for them to show….And, if they don’t…Fugitive recovery agents from the Bail Industry will track them down and bring them back to court….At no cost to the Tax Payer….Who do you think will flip the “Bill” when they flee on O.R…..The Tax payer….IF LAW ENFORCEMENT will even go after them….They don’t have enough officers to answer 911 calls let alone recover fugitives…

  4. i was a bail agent in the bay area and central california for the last 16 years and all we ever did was keep people from loosing their jobs and livelyhood and keep families together, we helped everyone, know this i’ve worked for californias largest bail companies to medium sized and for myself, and this business is for profit, and so is everything else in life you fool, bail in CA works always has and it isn’t gonna go away, the people need it and it has been with us for many years going back to medieval times, payment plans are very affordable and bail companies can’t charge interest on payments, and so you know i’m close with many attorneys and police officers and they do not want to spend there precious time looking for people with warrants who were OR’ed, pre-trail release doesn’t work because i’ve seen it first hand, most of the people i’ve bailed through the years were the average working guy and lower income and no one ever complained on the contrary they were thankful, this doesn’t discriminate against the poor, never has and as far as the rich go, they usually don’t get into trouble and when they do they put up cash bail though the county as well as property bonds, the bail industry saves the county an untold amount of money because when someone skips bail we find the defendants or our bounty hunters, so tax payer money and the local police don’t have to do it, you have absolutely no facts to back your phony stats, i can show you hundreds and possibly thousands of cases to prove your uniformed______!

  5. and just so you know according to a friend of mine who is a lieutanant in a police dept somewhere in santa clara county told me 2 months ago there are now over 100,000 active warrants in santa clara county alone, felony and misdemeanors, all thanks to our wonderful OR, pre releaseing of these poor inmates, with bail they have the incentive to show up to court since a friend or family member signed for them!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *