The bail bond racket

NPR is running a terrific series. Don’t read or listen on a full stomach.

NPR is running a series on the unjust and inefficient bail system and the interest-group politics that keeps it going.  Most of the Northeast most abolished bail a long time ago, replacing it with “own-cognizance” release, without increasing the non-appearance rate.

The system is unjust because it means that people charged with crimes walk free if they have money and rot in jail if they don’t.  Being in jail is not only a punishment in itself, which of course can’t be undone if the defendant is acquitted; it’s also a barrier to being able either to put up a defense or to establish or maintain the sort of community ties – most of all a job – that might lead to probation instead of prison if the defendant is convicted.  Perhaps the most horrible aspect of the system is that someone who would otherwise sit in jail for six months on a charge for which he might get thirty days is strongly tempted to plead guilty to get out of the clink.

In many jurisdictions, the courts don’t even collect the bond from the bondsman if the defendant defaults, eliminating the bondsman’s former <s>rule</s> role of chasing fugitives and reducing the entire business to a racket.  Naturally the racketeers are fighting hard to keep the system in place.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

14 thoughts on “The bail bond racket”

  1. meh, unemployment is the new black. and only those with jobs will be able to afford the transenlightenment. having a job is for robots, and having a say in government is for non-natural persons.

  2. How much would the situation be helped by a much speedier trial system. (Say, the trial must take place in less than 10% of the median sentence for the charged crime? So a 30-day sentence means the trial must be in 3 days at most unless both parties agree to delay it.)

  3. So what's the excuse for not collecting from the bondsman? It seems that any defendant who fails to appear and is then brought in by someone else would have an ironclad case for return of the fee…

  4. The ideal solution would be to simply make aquitted defendants whole, at the government's expense. Really, it's an outrage that the government can bring charges against you, lose, and still ruin your life. It makes it far too easy to force the innocent into plea bargains, or extort people with threats of baseless prosecution.

    I consider it on a par with the requirement that property owners be compensated for takings.

  5. Brett,

    You're ignoring the fact that acquittal doesn't necessarily mean the jury believes the accused is innocent. It might mean that, or it might mean that the jurors believed the accused was probably guilty, they were not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.

    I could go along with restitution for those who are factually innocent of the charges. I have a problem with 'restitution' for the second case, like, say, O.J. Simpson.

  6. You’re ignoring the fact that acquittal doesn’t necessarily mean the jury believes the accused is innocent. It might mean that, or it might mean that the jurors believed the accused was probably guilty, they were not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt./i>

    So what? We don't (or shouldn't) punish people "just a little" becasue the jury thinks they are probably guilty but it wasn't proven.

  7. I agree with Brett. Note that precisely zero of the right-wing politicians who have made such a fuss about Kelo (which was a taking with compensation) and "tort reform" have proposed doing anything about the high cost of being not guilty. That's why people like me find it so hard to take libertarianism seriously: the bottom line always turns out to be voting Republican, and the bottom line of that always turns out to be making things easier for the rich and tougher on the poor.

  8. "You’re ignoring the fact that acquittal doesn’t necessarily mean the jury believes the accused is innocent."

    No, I'm refusing to ignore the fact that acquittal entitles the defendant to be treated as innocent by the government.

    "Note that precisely zero of the right-wing politicians who have made such a fuss about Kelo (which was a taking with compensation) and “tort reform” have proposed doing anything about the high cost of being not guilty.

    Making the Republicans as bad as the Democrats on this score.

    Mark, there's no mystery why libertarians tend to go with the Republican party. From a libertarian viewpoint, the Democratic claim to being better on civil liberties is starkly delusional. I think the almost entirely Democratic outrage over the Citizens United decision demonstrates just how much Democrats suck on free speech. And, remember, the Libertarian party has suffered greatly under the yoke of campaign finance 'reform', and not by accident.

    That you tend to suck on the Second amendment goes without saying.

    Ok, the Third doesn't get much violated, 'cause the federal government can afford barracks.

    When it comes to property rights, again, you suck. As a matter of principle you suck.

    The war on drugs? Don't tell me you'd be against it, but the evul Republicans would diss you if you did anything about it. Doesn't frighten you off from being pro-choice on abortion, does it?

    And then there are all those positive rights you embrace, which can only be realized at the expense of real rights.

    Nope, libertarians tend to gravitate to the Republican party for perfectly rational reasons: They suck, but not as bad.

  9. So what's the excuse for not collecting from the bondsman? It seems that any defendant who fails to appear and is then brought in by someone else would have an ironclad case for return of the fee…

  10. That's why people like me find it so hard to take libertarianism seriously: the bottom line always turns out to be voting Republican, and the bottom line of that always turns out to be making things easier for the rich and tougher on the poor.

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