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Release: The Bail Bond Industry is For Profit, But Not For Good

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                      
Tuesday, September 18, 2012                                                                                            

Contacts: Zerline Hughes – 202.558.7974 x308 or 617.596.6958 zhughes@justicepolicy.org
Adwoa Masozi – 202.558.7974 x306 / amasozi@justicepolicy.org

The Bail Bond Industry is For Profit, but Not For Good:
New report supports elimination of for-profit bail bonding as part of justice system
 

WASHINGTON, DC – As early as 1912 – one hundred years ago – critics were concerned that poor people remained in jail while awaiting trial solely because of their inability to pay even small bail amounts, that bail bondsmen had become too prominent in the administration of justice and that corruption plagued the industry. Amazingly, these issues still apply to the for-profit bail bond system in today, the Justice Policy Institute shows in its new report, For Better or For Profit: How the Bail Bonding Industry Stands in the Way of Fair and Effective Pre-Trial Justice.

There are approximately 15,000 bail bond agents working in the United States, writing bonds for about $14 billion annually. Bail bond companies take billions from low-income people, with no return on investment in terms of public safety and added costs to communities, according to JPI’s findings. Backed by multibillion dollar insurance giants, the for-profit bail bonding industry maintains its hold in the pretrial system through political influence.

“For-profit bail bonding harms individuals, families and the integrity of our pretrial justice system,” said Spike Bradford author of For Better or For Profit and senior research associate for JPI. "The industry's political influence also perpetuates the use of money bail instead of other alternatives that allow people deemed low risk of re-offending or failing to appear in court to remain free until their trial. The practice of for-profit bail bonding should be eliminated.”

While most places in the U.S. still use money as a primary release mechanism, and allow for-profit companies to post bond for people, some states and communities are moving away from money bail and bail bonding towards the use of Pretrial Service (PTS) agencies and risk assessments.“Bail bondsmen shouldn’t be mistaken for criminal justice professionals,” said Tracy Velázquez, JPI Executive Director.

“They’re more like bankers, trying to decide whether to give you a mortgage.  While banks try to determine your risk of not being able to make your house payment, bail bondsmen only look at the likelihood of your not showing up for your court date, which is the only time their money is at risk.  And given how the system is set up to minimize the instances when bail bondsmen must pay forfeitures – and that they’ll come after the person who paid for the bond for the full bail amount anyway – this risk is low indeed.”

PTS agencies, on the other hand, make sure someone appears at court, but they also want to ensure that people released pretrial don’t reoffend while in the community.  They have tools – validated risk assessments – that not only can help them decide whether someone should be held in jail pretrial, but under what conditions of supervision a person might be released.  For example, someone arrested for drunk driving might need to take random breathalyzer tests, or be required to wear a GPS bracelet so law enforcement can monitor their whereabouts.  Pretrial service agencies can also help connect people with services they need to help them be successful in the community both until their trial and afterwards, including treatment, housing, etc.  While PTS agencies are a government expense, this is more than offset by reduced court costs, fewer jail beds, improved public safety and more people able to remain in the community meeting their obligations to their employers and families.

Some other key points in the report include the following:

For Better or For Profit makes the following recommendations for improving pretrial justice:

“People may think that the for-profit bail bond industry is good for people with little income, because it means they won’t have to spend days or weeks in jail while awaiting trial,” Bradford.“But the fact is, the industry is driving up bail amounts so that no one can afford to pay their own bail, while keeping a substantial fee that no one gets back – even if found innocent. Given there are fairer and more effective pretrial justice options, the continuance of for-profit bail is not in society’s best interest.”

For Better or For Profit is the second in a series of three JPI reports on bail. Bail Fail: Why the U.S. Should End the Practice of Using Money for Bail, was released on September 11, and the final report, a first-hand look at Baltimore, Maryland residents’ experiences with the bail system comes out September 25. JPI is also  hosting several events including conference calls and panel discussions for the media and general public.

For more information and to read For Better or For Profit: How the Bail Bonding Industry Stands in the Way of Fair and Effective Pre-Trial Justice, CLICK HERE. To read the Executive Summary, CLICK HERE. For additional information, please contact Zerline Hughes at 202.558.7974 x308 / 617.596.6958 or zhughes@justicepolicy.org. For  more JPI reports on the criminal justice systems, please visit our website at www.justicepolicy.org

The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promote policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities. For more information, please visit www.justicepolicy.org.

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