1/31/08 Bail Bonds

What comes to your mind when you think of bail bonds?  The nice folks who help spring you from jail when you’re waiting for trial?  One of the few types of businesses that populate mostly vacant commerical blocks in poor neighborhoods throughout the city?  Those ubiquitous yellow and pink Big Boyz Bail Bonds pens that are everywhere in Baltimore?

A article on the front page of the New York Times Tuesday pointed out the interesting fact that the US is one of only two countries in the world that use the bail bond system, empowering private companies to put up someone’s bail for them in exchange for a fee.  The fee is generally 10% of the bail, non-refundable.  Critics raise the point that, although you are innocent until proven guilty, you tend to have to pay a lot of money to a private company in order to stay out of jail, innocent or not.  Bail bonds is one way among many that the United States has charted a unique course for its legal system, internationally speaking.

Adam Liptak, the author of the article, joins us for the first part of today’s show, and then we’ll continue the discussion with a panel of local guests, discussing the pros and cons of the bail bond system, and possible alternatives.

Also worth checking out is a post and comments responding to the article on the Freakonomics blog.


2 Responses

  1. As long as we have privatized pre-trial release, why not take it a step further? We could privatize parole. Bail bondsmen could get an additional license to supervise parolees. Family members of eligible prisoners could hire the bail bondsmen. The parole board could then release the prisoner to the supervision of the bail bondsmen. Just like pre-trial release, the bail bondsmen would probably do a better job than government employees. And all that extra work would mean the industry could expand. Good jobs would result. All at no cost to the taxpayers. The perfect solution!
    If this works, we might even consider privatizing the trials themselves. Why should the taxpayers have to pay the salaries of the judges?

  2. After reading the NY Times Article, I couldn’t help but wonder if the author knew anything about the surety bail bond industry. First, there should be a distinction made between different bail bonds: Surety Bail Bonds (offered by a private business) and 10% Cash Bail Bonds (offered directly by some courts). Either bond requires a 10% payment to have the defendant released. If you pay 10% to a bail bondsman, that’s non-refundable, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be paid in advance. If you pay 10% directly to the court, in some jurisdictions, that fee can be held by the court to pay any fines or court costs.

    How surety bail bonds could possibly discriminate against “poor and middle-class defendants”? As a surety bail bond agent, we often release defendants that haven’t even paid our full premium of 10%; if a defendant and indemnitor qualifies, we offer arrangements to make payments on the 10% premium. Without a surety bail bond, most of those defendants would simply sit in jail without being released. If the defendant fails to appear in court, the surety bail bond agent is liable and will make all efforts to find and re-arrest the defendant.

    What actually “does nothing for public safety” are the 10% cash bonds offered directly my many local courts. If the defendant is released and fails to appear in court, there is NOBODY LOOKING for the defendant. What the public doesn’t understand is there is no special task force or law enforcement that is actively working on finding and re-arresting the defendant. The only time the defendant would get caught is if they were arrested on ADDITIONAL CHARGES.

    Bottom line: Surety bail bondsmen HELP “poor and middle-class defendants.” 10% cash bonds offered by local courts HURT the general public by allowing criminals to run loose in the streets.

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