The debate rages regarding bail reform, with proponents of money bail noting that it has a long, rich history in the U.S. legal system and opponents saying it’s time for change. It’s hard to say who’s “right” and who’s “wrong” – because both sides certainly have valid points. To that end, we’ll provide some information regarding both surety bail (bail bonds) and pretrial release programs. This will be the first in a multi-part series highlighting the differences between these two vastly different methods of pretrial release.
The Lowdown on Bail Bonds / Money Bail
- A surety bond, or bail bond, is a contract that is binding – the contract is between the defendant, the bail agent, and the insurance company providing the assurance of payment to the court in the event that the defendant fails to appear. The bond is a financial guarantee.
- The amount of bail – to be distinguished from a “bail bond” – is set by the court. This amount is based on a number of factors, including the defendant’s perceived flight risk and the public safety issue that may arise from releasing a potentially dangerous individual back into the public. Ties to the community are another point of emphasis when determining bail.
- A bail bond – which is used when a defendant does not have the funds to pay the entire amount of his or her bail – comes with a premium that is paid to the bail agent and insurance company. This is non-refundable and determined by law. In Maryland, that is determined by the Maryland Insurance Commission. For Maryland bail bonds – and throughout the U.S. – the premium paid is a percentage of the total bail amount.
The Scoop on Pretrial Services Programs
- Pretrial services programs do not involve a direct financial element. Instead, they are funded by taxpayers – so, it is not “free” to be released under a pretrial services program. It simply transfers the means of payment from the defendant to a larger number of people, i.e. – taxpayers. Pretrial services do not take into…
- Recidivism and failures to appear happen more often among those released without financial conditions, i.e. – without bail. This is demonstrated in a Bureau of Justice Statistics report that highlights these facts. The result of failures to appear is added costs in the form of police man hours to locate and re-arrest defendants who have failed to appear or been accused of committing another crime.
- Additionally, recidivism is nearly twice as high for those released without financial conditions, making it fairly evident that money bail and the services of licensed bail agents are effective in ensuring that defendants show up for trial and more likely to reduce the crimes committed by defendants while awaiting their court dates.