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.