For many years there has been noise about reforms for the bail bond industry or perhaps even doing away with it altogether. While we absolutely recognize that there are both bad actors in this (just as any) industry and issues with the criminal justice system as a whole (which is always going to be the case given the challenging nature of what it deals with), we need to take a moment from time to time to note the good that most participants in the industry provide.
Let’s start with the obvious – the bail bonds industry is not at the heart of the bail system, and removing this one element of a complex system is not a solution to the issues that arise from cash bail as a means of managing defendants. The courts establish that bail is a mechanism that can be used to ensure that an arrestee shows up at required court proceedings while not placing an undue and unnecessary burden on jail facilities. Each person that is detained must be taken care of in a variety of ways, a cost which is born by the community at large. For those that (reasonably) do not present a risk of flight or danger to others, we should seek ways to remove the costs of detention from taxpayers.
If everyone who wanted to purchase a home needed to have the full amount of cash available for the transaction (often in the hundreds of thousands of dollars), the result would be that very few people would become homeowners. On the assumption that moderate levels of homeownership are good for society, we embrace the system of mortgages and other financial tools that are designed to overcome the barriers of a simple cash transaction and give people the means to afford such a purchase – not based on what they have in their wallet today, but what they represent in terms of a reliable ability to pay.
Similarly, the criminal justice system wishes to establish a suitable incentive for defendants, once released following their booking and processing, to return to the court system at the required time for their case to be considered. A suitable incentive – perhaps $1,000 in some cases and up to $1,000,000 in others (depending on a whole range of factors) – is not likely to be cash that the vast majority of people are able to set aside.
However, most people can claim ownership to sufficient items of value, or promises of such value from friends and family who know well enough their character and can provide a support network to encourage follow through of their commitments, for this incentive to have its power by “posting” those items of value as security against flight. Most court systems, however, do not have the systems or inclinations to manage such complex collateral and associated commitments.
Therefore, to make the system work as intended, and to operate at its highest level of efficiency, bail bonds were introduced to meet the various and differentiated needs of the participants in the system. For the courts, a licensed and experience bail bonds company provides them with the assurance that bail amounts will be collected should the defendant not appear at their required court dates. For the defendant, even in the absence of available cash, they can generally provide the assets to allow them to be released from the very unpleasant experience of detention and be at home and their place of work in their regular routine while preparing for their defense.
A Positive Economic Impact
If you ask anyone whether they would rather stay in jail ahead of their court dates or return to their home, they will (with almost a laughably small number of exceptions) all choose release over further detention. The benefits of the bail system, which are significantly expanded to those that can’t afford it through the actions of bail bondsmen, are significant even if only to the people who receive the opportunity for release. In addition, there is overwhelming evidence that any increase in the rate of detention and incarceration leads to increased rates of recidivism. And of course, while this is not a reason to avoid incarceration for those that deserve prison sentences, reducing unnecessary detention is clearly of benefit to society in the form of a lower incidence of crime.
But even if we put aside all of those benefits, it is basic math to recognize that by reducing the costs of detaining and providing necessary care (food, medicine, clothing, protection, etc.) for those being held ahead of court (which, we should add, occurs before anyone has actually been found guilty of a crime), the practice of bail bonds provides a clear and net positive economic impact, and reduces costs to taxpayers. Municipalities and states have a long list of things that they need to use their scarce resources for – we should not be expecting them to house and care for defendants who have the ability to care for themselves.