Bail bonds reform has been a hot topic in criminal justice circles for decades, but only recently have there been such renewed and forceful attempts to discredit and dismantle the commercial bail bonds industry in favor of other pretrial release programs governed by the court system. Behind these is the Justice Policy Institute (JPI).
Of the five methods of pretrial release, surety bail is the only one that is guaranteed by a third party and which pays the full amount of bond if the defendant doesn’t show up for court. This makes the third party surety firm much more likely to find the defendant and force his appearance in court, if necessary. Surety bail is the method in which a private party, usually an insurance company, financially guarantees to the court that the defendant will appear in court. A bail bondsman is a licensed and independent agent that has a contract with a surety company to back the bonds that he or she writes. As all of this falls under the umbrella of private business, no taxpayer dollars are needed to fund the business, unlike other pretrial release methods governed by the court system.
In an article written on behalf of the American Bail Coalition (ABC), several JPI claims are addressed and refuted. According to JPI, commercial bail bonds should be eliminated as part of overall reform of pretrial release methods in an attempt to make the entire process more equal and transparent to all and to further uphold public safety. However, in their claims that the commercial bail bonds industry perpetuates financial inequality, corruption, and lack of disclosure within the pretrial release process, JPI ignores key data, statistics, and facts. For example, after documenting the success of various pretrial release methods over a 15 year period, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a study in 2007 that stated that commercial bail is more effective in getting defendants to show up for their court date, and that defendants released on commercial bail are less likely to commit further crimes while awaiting trial than those released by other, unsecured means. As the sole purpose of a bail bond, as upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, is to insure that a defendant will appear in court as scheduled, commercial bail bonds have been shown to be the most effective method of achieving this result.
In addition, while any business public or private can be corrupted, commercial bail bonds are more likely to expose corruption in a rival company due to the highly competitive nature of the business. As part of the insurance industry, commercial bail bonds companies are regulated through the Departments of Insurance in the states where they operate, requiring complete transparency of their records. The same can not always be said for other pretrial methods within the court system.
In the end, public safety should be the primary concern when considering pretrial release reforms, whichever method is considered. Also, when considering pretrial release reform, consideration of all the facts is paramount.