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Release: “It’s a Hustle:” Baltimoreans Say Bail System Should Be Reformed, For-Profit Bail Bonding Outlawed

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                       
Wednesday, September 26, 2012

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

“It’s a Hustle:” Baltimoreans Say Bail System Should Be Reformed, For-Profit Bail Bonding Outlawed
Final report in series on money bail gives snapshot of system from residents’ point of view

WASHINGTON, DC – Using money in exchange for freedom, in the form of money bail for release pretrial, is unfair and ineffectual, according to Baltimore residents interviewed for the final report of the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) series on bail reform analysis. In Bailing on Baltimore: Voices from the Front Lines of the Justice System, Baltimoreans explain how money bail discriminates against low-income communities, with serious consequences for them and their families, and how for-profit bail bonding undermines the judicial system.

“The Baltimore bail system relies almost exclusively on financial terms of release, or money bail, which means that someone’s financial resources are a major factor in determining whether they have to sit in jail pending trial,” said Bailing on Baltimore author Jean Chung, who produced the report as an Emerson Hunger Fellow with JPI. “It’s a system that disproportionately locks up low-income people and perpetuates the vicious cycles of poverty and incarceration in those communities. It’s a failure. It’s unfair.”

Bailing on Baltimore is a qualitative analysis to connect the first two quantitative reports on money bail and the for-profit bail industry to the actual experiences of people who have been involved in the system. Interviews gathered the perspectives of residents who have been through the city’s pretrial justice system, practitioners from pretrial service agencies and both prosecuting and defense attorneys. According to JPI Executive Director Tracy Velázquez, “by conveying how lives are affected by the bail system in Baltimore City – and around the nation – we hope the reports will be a catalyst for policy reforms and system improvements.”

Greg Carpenter, who was interviewed for the report, spent 20 years in prison and is now the Mondawin area site director for Safe Streets in Baltimore. He said bail is a burden on families.
“Here in Baltimore, you can get out on bail by paying one percent of the bail to the bail bondsman. You make arrangements to pay the full ten percent to the bondsman over time,” he states in the report. “If you miss a payment, they snatch you up and put you back in jail. Whatever money you’ve given the bondsman, you lose. And bail bondsmen, they’re just taking advantage of the situation. They do it because they know that the people that they’re going to provide the service to have no other options. It’s a hustle.”

JPI focused on this jurisdiction because Baltimore’s pretrial system relies almost exclusively on financial conditions of release or money bail, and is an excellent example of the problems inherent in money bail and bail bonding.  The U.S. is one of only two countries in the world that allows for-profit bail bonding; the other is the Philippines. However, several states have outlawed the practice of for-profit bail bonding, including Kentucky, Oregon, Illinois and Wisconsin. Washington, DC -- a city similar in population size and demographics situated just 40 miles southwest of Baltimore City – has successfully set alternative pretrial release and detention practices in lieu of money bail.

“Our nation's existing money bail system fails to meet its goals of promoting public safety or ensuring a person's return to court. Instead, it creates a situation where mostly poor people are unnecessarily incarcerated pretrial with little public safety or criminal justice rationale,” said Inimai Chettiar, Director of the Justice Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “This unnecessary incarceration comes at a high cost to states and local governments, who foot the bill for jail costs, to affected communities, and to society as a whole. Policymakers should take note of the reform proposals put forth in the Justice Policy Institute's report and work to rehabilitate the money bail system into one that protects public safety while reducing unnecessary incarceration.”

Recommendations to improve the bail system in Baltimore, based on the interviews of the residents, advocates, attorneys and pretrial services providers, are:

  • Use evidence-based risk assessments to assure court appearance and protect community safety.
  • Release more people on their own recognizance, with supervision and monitoring conditions when appropriate.
  • All people should have legal counsel at their first bail hearing.

On a national level, JPI’s recommendations in its first national bail reports on money bail and for-profit bail bonding, include:

  • Ending the use of money bail.
  • Ending for-profit bail bonding;
  • Expanding community education programs, such as the Neighborhood Defendant Rights programs, that inform people in the community about how to navigate the pretrial process;  
  • Requiring greater transparency within the industry, and requiring for-profit bail bonding businesses to report on pretrial outcome measures.

“Bailing on Baltimore is a very important piece in our bail series because it offers that very important human perspective on an issue that has not to date been well-examined by the reform community,” added Tracy Velázquez. “Whether a person is denied their liberty and jailed while awaiting their day in court has tremendous consequences for them, and for our justice system.  It’s time for a paradigm shift in how we think about the role of money in our justice system, particularly here at bail, the system’s front door.”

Bailing on Baltimore is the third and final in a series of 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 For Better or For Profit: How the Bail Bonding Industry Stands in the Way of Fair and Effective Pretrial Justice was released on September 18. JPI hosted several events this month for the media and general public and will conclude the month with “The High Price of Bail,” a panel discussion and reception on Thursday September 27. All report authors will be on hand for interviews.

For more information and to read Bailing on Baltimore, 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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