Dissecting the Cash Bail Dilemma

Courts and bail reform

As bail bondsmen, we have certain perceptions regarding the value of the services that we provide to our communities. We have recently been hearing all kinds of derogatory information regarding our industry, and I thought it was about time to inspire an honest discussion and clear up some falsehoods.

I want to preface this discussion with a little background information. The fight against commercial surety, or cash bail, originated in 1960, with the Vera Project. The original issue was as valid then as it is now, which means that 58 years of effort has not resolved the issue. The original issue was defendants sitting in jail for longer than they would have, had they been convicted and sentenced, all pre-trial. Here is where we must practice discernment and perform a root cause analysis of the argument, and why the issue still exists.

The reasons offered for why these defendants can’t make bail are many, the primary reason is they are poor, or as Pre-Trial advocates put it, indigent. They say these people should be released on personal recognizance or ROR. Their reasoning is that they need to be able to maintain their employment, contribute to the welfare of their families, participate in their own defense, and not lose everything they own while sitting in jail.

This assumes allot. Part of the assessment that determines this is supposed to include telephone inquiries to determine employment, residence, income, ties to the community, and verify family provided. Right now, bondsmen are laughing because they know that none of this can be accomplished in a 5-minute interview, at least not with any factual integrity. Isn’t it curious that everyone in these assessments is determined to be indigent?

They are sitting in jail because their family does not want them released. While some might argue this point, many families are dealing with a drug addicted family member and they want them to stay in jail until they get clean. The jails don’t want sick defendants going through withdrawal in their jails, it is difficult to manage, and hard to witness. We all have received collect calls from the jails from defendants, and when we call their families, they tell us to leave them there, so they can get clean. Many have burned every bridge with family members in the past, and the family wants off the emotional roller coaster that is drug addiction. Many do not contribute to their own welfare, let alone any family they have not abandoned in lieu of drugs. Many are not employed, because feeding a drug addiction is a full-time job. Participating in their own defense does not happen when they use public defenders who don’t even talk to them until the day of court, and then hasten a faux defense after talking to the ones that appear for 2 minutes before the roll is called.

Now for the root cause analysis. The people empowered to determine bail ensuring the likelihood of a defendant appearing in court, are the same people that determine how long someone sits in jail prior to trial, the Judges. The judiciary has the power and authority to administratively release any defendant that has been in jail for a specific amount of time. Bondsmen have no say in any of this. Bondsmen merely charge a fee, usually 10% of the face value of the bond, to guarantee the appearance of a defendant in court for all of their court dates. Who pays for this? The families of the defendants pay for this. Incidentally, out of this 10%, the bondsmen have to pay insurance premiums, accrual fund monies, fees directly to the court or Sheriff’s Office, telephone bills, advertising and office space. They also have to pay the court when they cannot produce the defendant within a given time.

Pre-Trial release organizations, in all their iterations, have had 58 years to resolve a very real issue. They have failed. Their collective response is to paint our industry as evil and a blight on those that commit crimes in our society. They say that it is wrong for bondsmen to make money as a result of indigent people committing crimes. I ask this question: Do Judges, Prosecuting Attorneys, Defense Attorneys, Public Defenders, Court Commissioners, Magistrates, Court Clerks and yes, Pre-Trial Release organizations work for free? The answer is obviously no. So, one can only surmise that it is okay for all of these person to be paid as a result of indigents committing crime, according to their logic, but they don’t want bondsmen getting paid for the services they provide. To be clear, all of the judicial reform, social justice reform or any other name used to label this mind set, is at the cost of the tax paying citizens. They are replacing a system that cost the tax payers nothing, with a system that costs them millions. They are also replacing the victims of these crimes, with the defendants, making them the new victims.

We are in a very volatile political situation in America, where we are not free to voice our opinions, absent the vitriol of those that oppose our opinions. We used to be able to openly debate political philosophy, and maybe even change a few minds with a well thought out and presented argument. Many citizens have had no contact with the court system or the bail bond industry. Because of this, they are not aware of these issues because they did not affect them. However, this has changed. Know where your tax dollars go and why, as we are all affected by this social justice reform.

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