Bondsmen vs. Pretrial Release
January 26, 2010 10:22 AM   Subscribe

Pretrial release is an alternative to a cash or surety bond that allows some criminal defendants to avoid jail while awaiting trial; allowing defendants to continue to work or care for children.

Recently, lobbyists hired by bail bondsmen have begun attacking pretrial release as dangerous and expensive.

As a part of their three- part series on bail (1, 2), NPR investigates how bail bonds industry lobbyists succeded in gutting pretrial release in Broward County, Florida.
posted by electroboy (27 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
I listened to this a few days ago and was fascinated. Although pre-trial release saved tax payers millions of dollars (because it's pretty expensive to feed and house a prisoner), it was killed due to the lobbying efforts of bail bondsmen. Something like 25% of Broward County's expenditures are on its jails.

Most people can't afford bail, but a lot can't even afford bond. They're stuck sitting in jail waiting for a trial date; meanwhile they're not earning income, providing for their family, being productive members of society. Pre-trial release was used, before it was killed, to allow those arrested for non-violent, minor offenses to continue to work while awaiting trial.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:27 AM on January 26, 2010


I'm sure that whole corporate speech thing will help solve the pressing problem of a process being designed to benefit defendants, and save huge amounts of taxpayer money rather than maximize profits for a particular business sector.
posted by Naberius at 10:27 AM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was surprised at how pissed off I got listening to that NPR series -- particularly at the part where a substantial fraction of bail bonds are never actually collected from the bond company when a defendant doesn't show up to trial. Those people are parasites.
posted by Slothrup at 10:31 AM on January 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


They're stuck sitting in jail waiting for a trial date; meanwhile they're not earning income, providing for their family, being productive members of society.

You forgot the minor point about not being able to prepare effectively for trial, either. Statistics show that, adjusted for the amount spent on an attorney, suspects who are released prior to trial stand a much higher chance of acquittal. I wish I had the citation handy.
posted by jock@law at 10:33 AM on January 26, 2010


In addition to jock@law's comment, the studies are (according to my crimlaw prof, at least) also showing that the strongest factor for recidivism is time spent in detention, including pretrial jail coupled with an acquittal.

Here, the credit given for any time spent in jail pretrial towards time served is generally at a 2:1 ratio (at the judge's discretion, and sometimes 3:1). So if you spend a month in jail, then are convicted, you're deemed to have spent 2 months in jail.
The conservatives in the House passed a bill to abolish this credit, although the senators (predominantly Liberal) amended this to a 1.5:1 ratio. Outcry ensued.

Here is a Senator's response. There are no services in pre-trial centres, no rehab, training, etc. They're overcrowded. And parole eligibility is 1:1, which is almost always the determining factor in release.

I fully support these measures that keep people out of jail and into other scenarios might help them.
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:41 AM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I also heard this a few days ago and was fascinated. I honestly found it nearly unbelievable that a city council would kill a program like pretrial release while knowing how cost effective it is, especially in our current times. Wow.

Anyway, glad to see this made it to a post.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:42 AM on January 26, 2010


I wish I had the citation handy.

They mention the same thing in the series. I listened to it last week and it was one of the few times I've literally yelled at the radio in my car.

The part that got me the angriest: guy gets arrested, calls the bail bondsman and gets approved for bond. Then pre-trial release gets him out of jail without having to pay bond. The bondsman went to the judge and got him thrown back in jail. The reporter interviewed the bondsman and he said "it was business." Cold-blooded bastard, that one.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:43 AM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I for one refuse to believe that criminals have families or lives outside of them twirling their mustaches, flipping nickels and claiming coppers are dirty rats.
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 10:50 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another sign of the erosion of "innocent until proven guilty". Pre-trial jail should be limited to dangerous individuals or extreme flight risks. The worst part is I don't know what can be done, I can call my elected officials all day but they don't want to appear "soft on crime" and the people this mostly effects can't even vote because they plead to BS felony charges just to get out of jail.

Sigh...
posted by ghharr at 10:53 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I listened to a bit of this and was amazed at the response of one of the bail bondsmen's response: this sort of self-righteous "hey, that's mine" anger at the idea there might be any change that affects his business. No sense of a larger operating context, no sense that the system, whatever opportunities it might happen to provide for enterprise, has (or at least should have) other priorities closer to its heart. Talk about an entitlement mentality. Maybe even an entitlement complex.
posted by weston at 10:55 AM on January 26, 2010


The Philly system has no bailbondsmen, corrupt bondsmen were replaced in the '70s by a deposit bail system where a defendant can pay 10% and then skip. It has resulted in the city being owed a billion dollars, and offenders going fugitive en masse (47,000 to be precise).

In a crisis that has been brewing for decades, Philadelphia defendants are thumbing their noses at the city's judges and victims, given a free pass by the system's ineffectual bail program - and skipping court in huge numbers.

It is not too much of a stretch to say, as does Deputy District Attorney John P. Delaney Jr., one of the city's top prosecutors, "The bail system is a complete cartoon."

When defendants skip court, old victims are victimized again and fresh ones are created as fugitives commit more crimes.

For some fugitives, ducking out on court is a tactical step that wears down witnesses and helps set the stage for the eventual collapse of their cases.


That's from Part 3 from the Inquirer's recent, uncharacteristically spectacular series Justice: Delayed, Dismissed, Denied.
posted by The Straightener at 11:11 AM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I honestly found it nearly unbelievable that a city council would kill a program like pretrial release while knowing how cost effective it is, especially in our current times. Wow.

Never heard of Willie Horton?

In the political debate, the bail bondsmen only have to be right one time - those defending the practice have to be right every time. For an elected official, there's only one right side of that line and the city council took it. Shows they're at least in touch with something.
posted by three blind mice at 11:21 AM on January 26, 2010


It has resulted in the city being owed a billion dollars, and offenders going fugitive en masse (47,000 to be precise).

When defendants skip court, old victims are victimized again and fresh ones are created as fugitives commit more crimes.

For some fugitives, ducking out on court is a tactical step that wears down witnesses and helps set the stage for the eventual collapse of their cases.


*Gets warm feeling inside.*

Stop it The Straightener, you're making me miss my old home.
posted by three blind mice at 11:24 AM on January 26, 2010


Isn't it nice that we can feel safe and secure in the knowledge that so many impoverished non-violent offenders who can't afford bail are being kept off the streets, away from their jobs/families/responsibilities?

This is a serious flaw of our justice system, and prior to hearing the NPR series, I had no idea it existed.
posted by wowbobwow at 11:52 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's what Matt Yglesias had to say:
If you’d told me that America’s system of dealing with accuses criminals awaiting trial was massively inefficient, hugely unjust, and especially tilted against the poor I would have no problem believing you. My guess, however, would have been that knee-jerk “tough on crime” politics was to blame. Apparently the real issue is “the interests of a powerful bail bonding industry”. NPR makes the case solidly and it’s all the more remarkable when you consider that there are many, many, many more powerful industries out there.

Similarly, I have a friend who used to write software that had something to do with tax administration. She was telling me that it would be relatively simple to implement a system in which everyone’s tax forms come already filled out, so you could then change them if there was a problem, but otherwise have an easy time of it. But the change is always blocked by a combination of the Club for Growth, which wants taxes to be as annoying as possible, and Intuit, which wants to do your taxes for you.
I don't really have too much to add, except that the corruption in government is just crazy. It was a lot easier in the Bush administration to just say "Well, they're just corrupt/evil republicans". Now that the democrats are in charge it's really apparent just how ridiculously fucked up the system really is.
posted by delmoi at 12:01 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Another point about the bail process that I'm not sure everyone knows. If you can't pay the bail set by the courts (say $5000, which is pretty low), you hire a bondsman to post bail for you and pay him a 10% premium ($500, in this case). You don't get that money back, ever. If you show up for trial, great. If not, they use bounty hunters to bring you back, who are not particularly well regulated, and have lots of leeway in order to bring you back.
posted by electroboy at 12:04 PM on January 26, 2010


If a dude thinks he has a real chance of getting convicted he typically won't post bail even if he can afford it, he'll do time pretrial and use the bail money to hire a better attorney.
posted by The Straightener at 12:09 PM on January 26, 2010


Never heard of Willie Horton?

That's a quite a different case, though, isn't it? I mean - he was a convicted murderer out on a weekend furlough. Pretrial release, remember, is 1) not granted to everyone, i.e. to those arrested for more egregious felonies that pose a significant risk to the public and 2) granted BEFORE trial, i.e. while you are 'technically' still innocent. So he doesn't strike me as a particularly relevant example.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:14 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think he's suggesting it as a bogeyman to be used by opponents of the process, rather than a serious criticism. This story has an example of the ads the bond agents were putting out.
posted by electroboy at 12:20 PM on January 26, 2010


Let's just use the "Law & Order" model. "The people request remand, your Honor." *strained objections from the defense* *snarky backtalk from cranky judge* "The defendant is remanded!" *gavel*

CHUNG CHUNG!

If there are any other thorny legal issues that need solving, shoot me an email. I've seen every episode of "Law & Order" probably half a dozen times.
posted by Skot at 12:23 PM on January 26, 2010


I think he's suggesting it as a bogeyman to be used by opponents of the process, rather than a serious criticism. This story has an example of the ads the bond agents were putting out.

Ah ha! Got it.

hangs head in embarrassment.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:35 PM on January 26, 2010


The story references part 2 of 3. Anyone have a link to 3?
posted by jckll at 12:48 PM on January 26, 2010


Oregon is one of four states that doesn't allow commercial bail bonding. Last year the legislature passe a bill to create a committee to study allowing it again. Time to write my representatives in Salem telling them this is a bad idea.

What was most shocking and sickening to me about this series is that the Bail Bondsmen don't pay the full bond if their client skips. In some cases they pay NOTHING and in others they pay 5% which means even if their client skips they profit.
posted by vespabelle at 12:54 PM on January 26, 2010


The story references part 2 of 3. Anyone have a link to 3?

Sorry, didn't make that clear. The link from gutting pretrial release is the third part.
posted by electroboy at 12:57 PM on January 26, 2010


I was surprised at how pissed off I got listening to that NPR series

Me, too. I sat in my driveway, unable to turn off the radio and get out of the car, and seethed. However, whatever, the machinations were that were used --- to replace a common-sense program with benefit to all with a force-fed revenue stream for business and benefit for precious few --- they are evil.
posted by bz at 1:07 PM on January 26, 2010


I think it better to look at the circumstances as to why the person had been arrested. With times as they are and society as it is, I'd prefer to see someone who steals a loaf of bread out of hunger or someone who committed a minor offense be eligible for pretrial release.
posted by millardsarpy at 4:58 PM on January 26, 2010


In case people in the USA don't know, other common law jurisdictions (the UK, Australia, New Zealand and so forth) do not have your privatised bail system. Everyone that I've explained it to is amazed by it - and not in a good way.

The way it works where I live is that the judge (or bail justice or whoever) may grant an accused bail on condition that someone agree to stand as a surety. If the accused fails to appear, the surety will lose the amount pledged. It is illegal for the accused to indemnify the surety. In other words, you can get your Aunt Fanny to stand as a surety and the court will decide that her resources and her social standing mean that she must pledge $1,000. If you don't appear she will (potentially) be liable to pay that amount. You cannot get J Random Stranger to stand as a surety because J Random Stranger will expect to be paid back - and that would be illegal.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:18 AM on January 27, 2010


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