Why some California inmates are waiting up to 12 years for their day in court: CalMatters investigation

“For thousands of Californians, the notion of “presumed innocent” has been turned on its head. They’ve waited years in jail without being tried or sentenced. These defendants — along with the victims of crimes — are the human toll of a struggling judicial system,” writes Robert Lewis for CalMatters. Illustration by CalMatters.

In California, more than 44,000 people are in jail without having been convicted. Some have been there for years, waiting to go to trial.

“The more shocking stat is that there are 1,300 unsentenced inmates statewide who've been in custody for more than three years," says Robert Lewis, CalMatters reporter covering justice. “That includes about 330 who've actually been behind bars more than five years without being convicted and sentenced for a crime."

It was a problem pre-pandemic, Lewis says, but now it’s a lot worse. And it's tough to get an accurate account of how widespread this problem is.

“The data coming from the state is terrible. The state court system doesn't actually know what the situation is,” Lewis says. “Once the pandemic hit, this backlog appears to have grown. There were all these emergency orders that allowed for the delay of hearings, for judges to vacate trial dates, for delays in arraignments.”



  • Robert Lewis - reporter at CalMatters who covers justice issues