U.S. Bail Bond Policy Criticized

I've never liked the bail bonds business. It was a big relief for my clients when our federal court went to a refundable cash deposit system some years ago. State courts should follow suit.

But I didn't realize that we are one of the only countries that uses the system -- in other countries, it's a crime to make a profit off of securing someone's release.

The New York Times has a very interesting article on this today, Illegal Globally, Bail for Profit Remains in U.S.

Bail bondspersons have been outlawed in llinois, Kentucky, Oregon and Wisconsin. Why? It's a system that discriminates against the poor. [More...]

Most of the legal establishment, including the American Bar Association and the National District Attorneys Association, hates the bail bond business, saying it discriminates against poor and middle-class defendants, does nothing for public safety, and usurps decisions that ought to be made by the justice system.

It also runs counter to the presumption of innocence:

The flaw in the system most often cited by critics is that defendants who have not been convicted of a crime and who turn up for every court appearance are nonetheless required to pay a nonrefundable fee to a private business, assuming they do not want to remain in jail.

The other country that heavily uses commerical bail bonds for criminal defendants is the Phillippines. That should tell you something. It's time for this relic to go.

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    The politics of crime vs. the politics (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by LimaBN on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 04:13:00 AM EST
    Ms. Merritt,
    With all due respect to your sagacity and intellect, I really do feel your contributions to our national discourse are most evident when addressed to the politics of crime.  

    The bail bond story was a great link that I would have otherwise missed.  A thoughtful analysis of
    the relationship between political candidacies
    and fear-mongering would also be appropriate.

    Someday, we may even see an attempt to come up with a rational relationship between crimes and their respective punishments.

    Whether Ms. Clinton or Mr. Obama was wearing red, and whether one snubbed the other?  Not so much.
    There are lots and lots of politico blogs that
    do that job more thoroughly than one can stand

    we'll continue to cover both (none / 0) (#11)
    by Jeralyn on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 10:54:53 AM EST
    As our "about" page says,

    TalkLeft is not a neutral site. Our mission is to intelligently and thoroughly examine issues, candidates and legislative initiatives as they pertain to constitutional rights, particularly those of persons accused of crime.

    TalkLeft was a unique voice in the 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006 elections, as it will be in 2008, concentrating on exposing injustices in the criminal justice system and, in particular, those of the current administration.

    This is a critical election year. While crime issues may not be as much on the front burner as I'd like, and there isn't much difference between the Democratic candidates on these issues, it's important to follow the primaries and election.

    That said, we will also cover crime issues, the death penalty, wrongful convictions, (and judicial appointments, immigration, the war in Iraq, Guantanamo, etc.) and advocate for change.

    Hope you stick around. We write more than 15 posts on an average day. Just scroll down till you find those you are interested in or bookmark the rss feed.


    Thanks Jeralyn... (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by dutchfox on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 05:24:41 AM EST
    for the NYT story link. I had no idea about the federal vs state laws on bails. (I'm not an attorney, so that's why I love this blog and learn so much from it!) Cheers.

    The release statistics for my county are (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by JSN on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 09:59:30 AM EST
    very different from those in New York. For those held after initial appearance
    1. 22% are released on recognizance (some cannot make bond and they are held longer than their would be if sentenced and ROR is they only way to release them)
    2. 12% are released on bond (very few on a surety bond)
    3. 19% are transferred to another agency (DOC and other counties).
    4. 6% are not released (held past the end of the sample period)
    5. The other 41% they are released after the court decides their case.

    It is a war on poor people and the rich are winning.

    I have an honest question (none / 0) (#1)
    by bruins01 on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 03:12:20 AM EST
    How do defendants in every other country pay for bail when they cannot afford it? What systems do they have?

    The article says that some other countries simply trust defendants to show up for trial. I love that, but how do they implement a sliding scale for the severity of the crime?

    I'm asking because I genuinely don't know. I figured someone else here would.

    a lot of european (none / 0) (#5)
    by Kathy on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 07:33:05 AM EST
    countries do not have the concept of bail.  For instance, in France, if they arrest you for a crime, you stay in jail until trial.  I think Germany is the same.  The Netherlands, too, but you get a hearing every seven or eight days to make sure you should be kept in.

    (Haha--just look at foreign countries where Janet Evanovich doesn't sell and you'll know it's because they have no concept of bail.)

    (as an aside, in Finland, they let prisoners out of jail at night so that they can learn to fit back into society.)


    True about the Euro countries (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by scribe on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 09:56:26 AM EST
    but one also needs remember that it takes a lot of doing to get arrested over there.  Especially for the minor quality-of-life offenses which make up an overwhelming percentage of our arrests.  Over here, one can easily get arrested for walking down the wrong street - ask all the people arrested at the Repug convention in 2004.  By comparison, there were pretty substantial protests at a G8 conference in Germany last year, a bunch of cops hurt, and fewer arrests than cops hurt.

    And, one also needs to remember that their theories of policing are considerably different than ours - they are more concerned with finding out what happened and then determining who should be charged.  Our system, on the other hand, is more concerned with finding an appropriate defendant and then building a narrative around why that defendant is guilty.


    scribe (none / 0) (#10)
    by Kathy on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 10:33:58 AM EST
    I lived in Europe for many years and found their policing and arrests to be pretty much on par with ours.  I will grant that Scandinavian countries seem to be a bit more logical, but if you are talking about France, England, Germany, etc, then in my personal experience, your statement does not hold up.  Especially after terrorism attacks in London and Madrid, they tend to arrest first and ask questions later.

    Hmm (none / 0) (#3)
    by Steve M on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 05:22:08 AM EST
    I sense a bail bond lobby at work.

    an issue not addressed (none / 0) (#6)
    by cpinva on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 09:45:51 AM EST
    by you:

    if for-profit bail bondsmen were eliminated, wouldn't that also kill the for-profit bounty hunter business?

    In a heartbeat - (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by scribe on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 09:50:29 AM EST
    Remember, bail is basically an insurance policy, the bet being that Defendant A will show up and the downside for the insurer being the amount of the bond.  Bounty hunters are really agents of an insurance company trying to make sure the insurance company does not have to pay off.

    If there is no insurance policy to protect, i.e., no bond money posted by the bail company, there is no need for the bounty hunters to make sure the insurance company does not have to pay off.


    European model (none / 0) (#12)
    by diogenes on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 11:56:02 AM EST
    If you have no bail bondsmen, then only rich people can afford to post bail.  Is that what you really want?

    End the drug war and bail not such an issue (none / 0) (#13)
    by Honyocker on Tue Jan 29, 2008 at 09:37:40 PM EST
    Great post on an under reported story...considering that a large percentage of Denver's jail population are people charged with drug felonies (with the pathetically easy to reach felony possesion threshold of one gram) who can't afford bail, if the National District Attorney's Asociation really wanted to do something about this, they could start by helping end the war on people who use drugs.