ARTICLES LISTED HERE ARE OFTEN PROVIDED BY SURETY ENTITIES STATE-WIDE AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OR POSITION OF FSAA.
Article by California agent sums up the solution to government's struggle with pre-trial release.
April 26, 2012
Bakersfield, CA - Two Bondsmen Killed While Attempting to Apprehend Fugitive
March 7, 2012
FSAA Responds To False Information In Central Florida Newspaper Regarding DUI Arrestee Claiming To Be Bondsman
December 8, 2011
Attorney Peter Antonacci sets record straight on proposed legislation concerning county-run pre-trial release...
November 7, 2011
Panama City News Herald
Bondsmen Track Clients - Wherever They May Go
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
U.S. Senate Kills Locally-backed Criminal Justice Commission
September 12, 2011
The Heritage Foundation posted the following article:
Get Out of Jail Free: Taxpayer-Funded Grants Place Criminals on the Street Without Posting Bail
May 27, 2011
Donations are currently being accepted to support the families of two bail agents from the Jacksonville area. Antonio Cooks was killed and Vernon Williams was critically injured while they were attempting to take someone into custody. Mr. Cooks leaves behind 4 small children and Mr. Williams is married and has 3 children.
Donations for Mr. Cooks can be made to the following bank account: Bank Of America Routing # 540600106 Account #898036875369
Donations for Mr. Williams can be made to the following bank account: B B & T Routing #263191387 Account #0000149364544
May 26, 2011
FSAA's Board of Directors is pleased to congratulate Pam Jackson of Jacksonville's M & M Bail Agents for her recent designation as Certified Bail Agent. This designation is the result of not only educational achievement, but also professional excellence and community involvement. Pam has made great efforts to achieve this professional designation and deserves the praise and congratulations of everyone who recognizes the diligence and commitment required for such an achievement.
From The Gazette of Colorado Springs, CO - April 18, 2011
OUR VIEW: Politicians want public to pay for bail (vote on it)
It's among the worst ideas of the year
April 18, 2011 7:28 PM
For the editorial board
We do not need another government takeover of another private industry.
In the midst of recession and general public uncertainty, SB186 would put our local courthouses in the bail-bonding business. It could easily put taxpaying bond agents, who employ thousands of taxpayers throughout Colorado, right out of business. Even worse, suspects who are free on bond would also be free from a bonding agent with a financial incentive to bring them to justice. (Read the bill, read the fiscal note)
SB186 may be the worst bill to emerge from the 2011 General Assembly, and The Gazette hopes it won’t survive the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.
“It is a government solution to a system that’s not broken,” said Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, who serves on the appropriations committee and plans to oppose the bill. “I’m concerned about conflicts of interest this would create. Judges and prosecutors should not also run the bail system.”
The bill would allow a judicial district to post the bond for a suspect, with the defendant paying interest to the courts instead of a bonding agent. At a bond rate of 15 percent, a suspect with a $10,000 bond would pay the court $1,500 in return for freedom. Half the money would pay for pretrial services, such as drug tests and monitoring services, and half could be returned to the suspect upon completion of the case. If convicted, the remaining money would pay fines, fees, costs, surcharges and restitution.
The Gazette spoke with a variety of the bill’s supporters, who each believe it would create an additional option for suspects to get out of jail. We think they are mistaken. The Gazette believes SB186 would quickly establish a state monopoly, leaving suspects at the mercy of a system that sets bail, posts bail and profits from bail.
“This puts us out of business,” said Bobby Brown, an El Paso County resident who may be the country’s best-known bail bondsman.
The Gazette spoke with Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, who sponsors a House version of the Bill. We spoke with El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, who supports SB186. We also spoke with Christie Donner, of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, who supports it. All are trusted sources respected by The Gazette. None could assure us the proposed system would reduce jail populations. None convinced us it would not destroy a private system that serves Colorado effectively. None convinced us the new system would work better than what we have. They just kinda-sorta think it’s a good idea.
Under the current system, suspects go through the yellow pages and find an array of lenders eager to post bond for a fee. Bonding agents routinely make creative deals that result in lower rates, because most suspects cannot come up with 10 percent or 15 percent of a bond. They allow suspects to use collateral in lieu of cash. They assume the risk, and have every incentive to make sure suspects show up in court on time. They travel coast-to-coast to rein in suspects who skip court dates, protecting their reputations and investments.
If SB186 puts private agents out of business, the burden of bailed-out suspects becomes the public’s. We will be left with 9-to-5 public employees to ensure that suspects appear in court. These employees will have nothing to lose when suspects skip court, because they will have nothing invested.
We will likely have more suspects who cannot make bail in the first place. By state law, the courts will be able to charge defendants up to 15 percent of a bond and it’s unlikely our judicial employees will jump through hoops — as agents in the hyper-competitive private market do — to free defendants from jail. Public employees will make no more, no less if a suspect sits behind bars or goes free. Private agents, by contrast, profit from the release of suspects. That means they work hard to make it happen.
Colorado cannot afford a risky foray into government bail-bonding, especially one that’s likely to kill a private industry that protects our interests and feeds thousands of taxpaying Colorado families. The system is not broken. Do not take chances with a flaky bill that attempts to fix it, with the potential of dire consequences.
Read more: http://www.gazette.com/articles/bail-116477-put-free.html#ixzz1K4rc7X00
31 January 2011, 4:41 pm The Bounty Hunter's Pursuit of Justice
When felony defendants jump bail, bounty hunters spring into action. It’s a uniquely American system, and it works.
Excerpts: As printed in the 2011 Winter issue of the Wilson Quarterly
By Alex Tabarrok
Alex Tabarrok is Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and director of research for the Independent Institute. He writes regularly with coauthor Tyler Cowen at the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution.
Andrew Luster had it all: a multimillion-dollar trust fund, good looks, and a bachelor pad just off the beach in Mussel Shoals, California. Luster, the great-grandson of cosmetics legend Max Factor, spent his days surfing and his nights cruising the clubs. His life would have been sad but unremarkable if he had not had a fetish for sex with unconscious women. When one woman alleged rape, Luster claimed mutual consent, but the videotapes the police discovered when they searched his home told a different story. Eventually, more than 10 women came forward, and he was convicted of 20 counts of rape and sentenced to 124 years in prison. There was only one problem. Luster could not be found.
Shortly before he was expected to take the stand, Luster withdrew funds from his brokerage accounts, found a caretaker for his dog, and skipped town on a $1 million bail bond. The FBI put Luster on its most-wanted list, but months passed with no results. In the end, the authorities did not find him. But Luster was brought to justice—by a dog (or at least a man who goes by that name). Duane Chapman, star of the A&E reality TV show Dog: The Bounty Hunter, tracked Luster for months. He picked up clues to Luster’s whereabouts from old phone bills and from Luster’s mother, who inadvertently revealed that her son spoke fluent Spanish. He also gleaned useful information from a mysterious Mr. X who taunted him by e-mail and who may have been Luster himself. Finally, a tip from someone who had seen Dog on television brought Chapman to a small town in Mexico known for its great surfing. Days later, he and his team spotted Luster at a taco stand, apprehended him, and turned him over to the local police.
Most people don’t realize how many fugitives from the law there are. About one-quarter of all felony defendants fail to show up on the day of their trial. Some of these absences are due to forgetfulness, hospitalization, or even imprisonment on another charge. But like Luster, many felony defendants skip court with willful intent. The police are charged with recapturing these fugitives, but some of them are chased by an even more tireless pursuer, the bounty hunter.
Bounty hunters and bail bondsmen play an important but unsung role in a legal system whose court dockets are too crowded to provide swift justice. When a suspect is arrested, a judge must make a decision: set the suspect free on his own recognizance until the court is ready to proceed, hold the suspect in jail, or release the accused on the condition that he post a bail bond. A bond is a promise backed by incentive. If the suspect shows up on the trial date, he gets his money back; but if he fails to show, the money is forfeited. We don’t want to deprive the innocent of their liberty, but we also don’t want to give the guilty too much of a head start on their escape. Bail bonds don’t solve this problem completely, but they do give judges an additional tool to help them navigate the dilemma.
Bail might be a rich man’s privilege were it not for the bail bondsman. (Many bondsmen are women, but “bondsperson” doesn’t have quite the same ring, so I’ll use the standard terminology.) In return for a non-refundable fee, usually around 10 percent of the bond, a bondsman will put up his own money with the court. A typical bond might run $6,000. If the defendant shows up, the bondsman earns $600. But if the defendant flees, the bondsman potentially can forfeit $6,000. Potentially, because when a fugitive fails to appear, the court gives the bondsman a notice that essentially says, “Bring your charge to justice soon or your money is mine.” A bondsman typically has 90 to 180 days to bring a fugitive back to justice, so when a defendant jumps bail, the bondsman lets the dogs loose.
Actually, that last image suggesting a massive manhunt is misleading. Bail bond firms are often small, family-run businesses—the wife writes the bonds and the husband, the “bounty hunter,” searches for clients who fail to show up in court. Although a bondsman never knows when a desperate client might turn violent, his job is usually routine, as I found out when Dennis Sew volunteered to show me the ropes. Dennis has been in the business for more than 20 years and in 2009 was named agent of the year by the Professional Bail Agents of the United States.
More on this story to follow . . .
13 January 2011, 4:39 pm ALEC Supports Private Surety Bail
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the nation's largest nonpartisan, individual membership organization of state legislators, issued a press release on January 10, 2011 supporting the industry in reducing jail populations.
Jail Population Decreases as the Use of
Commercial Bail Increases
For Immediate Release
January 10, 2011
Washington, D.C.; A new study by the U.S Department of Justice (DOJ) found the number of individuals who were held in jail decreased. The overall jail population has decreased from 773,341 in 2007 to 760,400 in 2009. This coincides with an earlier DOJ study that found the percentage of individuals who were released on commercial bail from jail increased from approximately 20 percent in 1992 to over 40 percent today.
Michael Hough, Public Safety Resident Fellow at the American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) said, “This latest study disproves the myth being pushed by some that the use of bail bonds increases the number of people in jail – we now know in fact the opposite is true -- that the increased use of commercial bail helps to alleviate overcrowding in jails.”
The National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies, which lobbies for the abolition of commercial bail, released a report in 2009 claiming the pretrial jail population was rapidly increasing due to commercial bail (http://www.napsa.org/publications/napsafandp1.pdf). National Public Radio also made a similar argument in a three-piece report entitled, “Bail Burden Keeps U.S. Jails Stuffed with Inmates.”
While the number of individuals in jail decreased from 2007 to 2009 the number of individuals in prison continued to grow. Hough said, “Commercial bail is more widely used by local governments and judges because bondsmen are able to quickly free individuals from jail while holding them accountable to return to court to face justice. It is important to note that other factors like a declining crime rate also factored in to the lower jail population, put clearly the antiprivate sector bail lobby will have to find something other than jail overcrowding to howl about."
ALEC's website is http://www.alec.org/
10 December 2010, 2:42 pm Pretrial Release – Using “proven” methods vs. “evidence-based or simple” methods
The Eighth Amendment (Amendment VIII) to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights, which prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments.
Bail laws in the United States grew out of a long history of English statutes and policies. During the colonial period, Americans relied on the bail structure that had developed in England hundreds of years earlier. When the colonists declared independence in 1776, they no longer relied on English law, but formulated their own policies which closely paralleled the English tradition. The ties between the institutions of bail in the United States are also based on the old English system. In medieval England, methods to ensure the accused would appear for trial began as early as criminal trials themselves. By the end of the 19th century, commercial sureties were the normal manner of release.
In the 60’s there was pressure to develop alternatives to money bail; in 1966 President Lydon Johnson signed into law the first reform of the federal bail system since 1789, which created presumption in favor of releasing a defendant on their own recognizance (ROR), or a promise to appear for court. As evidenced by numerous national studies, such unsecured release has led to increased failures to appear for court costing the criminal justice system and taxpayers millions of dollars.
The private surety bail industry has continued to ensure defendants appear for all court proceedings. Bail agents are financially and physically responsible for all defendants released on bail and use no taxpayer funds. But the industry is under increased attacks.
By law, Judges must release defendants on the least restrictive conditions they believe are compatible for appearance at trial. When jails become overcrowded Judges are pressured to release individuals ROR rather than run the risk of setting a bail the defendant can’t secure. And then there are large government-funded pretrial services programs and credit card vendors who release defendants with little to no supervision.
While release on a bail bond through a private surety bail agent has been proven to be the most efficient and effective means of pretrial release, these other release methods are couched as “advancing justice through innovation and technology.”
A Proven Method.
A proven method is defined as “having been demonstrated or verified without doubt.” The private surety bail industry has a “proven method” of release that guarantees the appearance of the defendant in court. If not, the bail agent is 100 percent financially responsible and not the taxpayer. This proven method has been verified through numerous national studies.
Government-funded pretrial services programs began as a means to help indigent defendants charged with minor offenses secure release from jail. Today, they eschew any method of release using financial means – no matter the charge or the criminal history of the defendant – and don’t even consider indigency to be a factor for eligibility. Such programs have faced increasing scrutiny from elected officials and taxpayers as they have grown to become large bureaucratic programs fighting for their survival. Their latest tactic? They claim to use “evidence-based” practices that focus on innovation, technology, research, motivational interviewing and cognitive behavior!
These programs claim such methods will ensure the most effective release decision is recommended for defendants – all on unsecured release. So how does it work you ask?
Well defendants released under government-funded pretrial services programs are “interviewed and assessed” by asking a lengthy series of questions, many of which require specific personal information to be provided, and then pretrial services staff take such data and compile a “research-based” risk assessment to determine if the defendant will show up for court and not re-offend while on release. Your tax dollars at work here!
What type of questions is asked of defendants? Let us tell you.
And just how long do you think this process takes? Is it long enough to justify the millions of taxpayer dollars going in to such programs? These are defendants who have been arrested for a crime and have not yet had their day in court. Why are they being coddled by the pretrial services programs and asked such intrusive questions? These defendants have not been found guilty, ordered to probation, drug or mental health programs or any other “program” as a condition of their sentence. Such heavy-handed “intervention” at the front-end is what your tax dollars are being spent on when most defendants can afford to simply pay a nominal fee to bond out of jail. And if they can't afford a monetary bond because they are truly inidgent, let the Judge take the onus for releasing the defendant on their own recognizance.
- Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking or drug use?
- Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drug use or drinking?
- Have you ever felt guilty about your drug use or drinking?
- Have you had an eye opener the first thing in the morning to steady nerves or get rid of a hangover?
- Do you ever use drugs to change the effect of another drug you have taken?
- Do you feel . . . nervous, hopeless, restless or fidgety, so depressed that nothing can cheer you up?
- Do you feel that everything is an effort, worthless?
- Has a medical doctor ever prescribed medicine for an emotional problem such as depression or nervousness?
- Have you been hospitalized for an emotional or behavioral problem?
- Did you receive special education services in school for an emotional or behavioral problem?
- Have you ever spoken to a psychologist or counselor about an emotional problem?
- Have you ever received treatment for an alcohol or drug problem?
- Do you have chronic medial problems that continue to interfere with your life?
- Are taking prescription medicine for a physical problem?
- Does someone contribute to your support?
- Does it constitute the majority of your support?
- How many people depend on you for their support?
- Are you satisfied with your living arrangements?
- Do you live with anyone who has a drug or alcohol problem?
- Have you even been a victim of emotional, physical or sexual abuse?
- What is your frequency of drug or alcohol use?
- Do you administer drugs orally, through an IV, smoke, nasal snort?
- Which substance is a major problem?
Pay Bail Simply.
Then we have just the opposite system of release: the swipe-and-go credit card release system! This type of release is when an out-of-state software company is allowed to set-up shop in a county jail and for a hefty non-refundable fee, allows a defendant or their family to “swipe” their way out of jail. And oh by the way – whoever runs the jail gets a piece of the pie as well. For every defendant who swipes their way out, the jail gets a percentage of the transaction. How will this software company ensure that defendants actually show up for their court appearance? What will they do if defendants fail to show? They will do nothing to ensure that those who swipe their way out of jail are present in court. The jail will use more of your tax dollars by having their officers or other law enforcement officers try and find the absconded defendant when they aren’t fighting crime.
How is this method of release, where a company takes a non-refundable premium from a defendant, any different from the private surety bail industry? Both obtain a non-refundable premium but with a bail agent, they are 100 percent financially responsible if the defendant fails to appear for court. Under the other methods of release, the taxpayer is responsible.
And a pretrial services program is about as responsible as the credit card vendor for a failure to appear. If a defendant doesn’t show up for court it’s only a negative statistic for the program. They simply tell the court the defendant “violated” his/her pretrial release and more of your tax dollars are allocated for the sheriff to go out and again try to find the defendant. With a bail agent, it is their livelihood and business on the line.
Feeling generous yet with you tax money this holiday season?
The Truth About Bail.
The private surety bail industry has been characterized by government-funded pretrial services programs as “greedy bail agents” and who “exact” money for bail from defendants while leaving those who can’t afford bail to languish in jail. They have even stretched their theories to state that jails are overcrowded because of bail agents! Statistics 101: a correlation does not translate in to causality. The truth is that small and repeat bonds are the bread-and-butter of many bail agents. We all know there are many repeat offenders in every community. Bail agents build up a client base of such defendants who know that the agent will find and re-arrest them if they don’t abide by the bail contract – appear at court and stay out of trouble!
Research has proven that most defendants are able to bail out of jail within 24-72 hours. Bail agents are a critical component of helping to keep jail populations in-check. And the cost of bail to the defendant? A nominal fee of 10 to 15 percent of the bond in most states; this translates to approximately $100 - $500 maximum for most defendants. Contrast that with a pretrial services officer making from $16 to $25 an hour interviewing hundreds of defendants with their lengthy “risk assessment” tool and it adds up to substantially more than a bail bond would. Not to mention the time defendants remain in jail having to submit to such assessments when they could have been released on a bail bond using no taxpayer funds. Talk about affecting jail overcrowding!
To Sum Up.
Pretrial services programs and swipe-and-go systems completely remove any transfer of responsibility to a licensed and bonded agent who lives and works in the local community. It removes the economic interest that an agent has in making sure the defendant shows up for court. By doing so, we see a reduction in the “show up” rate for court, a rise in repeat crimes, and extra costs to taxpayers for requiring law enforcement to retrieve the missing defendant.
Research has proven that failure to appear rates are higher for defendants released on their own recognizance, deposit bonds and other non-secured release methods, while the private surety bail industry has the lowest failure to appear rate.
Our country continues to face an unprecedented economic crisis that still may take years to recover from. State and local governments have drastically cut budgets while raising fees for services and passing those costs on to already financially-strapped citizens. Private surety bail affords the opportunity to reduce jail overcrowding, increase public safety and improve compliance of those defendants released into the community pending case disposition. Any release method should always take into account the best use of taxpayer dollars and public safety.
As one great Florida Legislator said:
“The fact is that government can always compete with private industry and with the use of tax dollars can put almost any business out of business. If the government wanted to, they could lend money as banks; they could pay more interest than banks. If government wanted to be in the insurance business like private citizens, it could certainly do that. We just put it on the taxpayers’ backs."And as far as government competing with private enterprise . . . this same Legislator said:
"Hell hath no furry like a bureaucrat who’s been asked not to compete with private industry!"As we leave 2010 behind and enter in to a new year, citizens all over the country should become vocal advocates and demand that their valuable tax dollars not be wasted by governments wanting to become bigger and bigger to justify their existence to the detriment of public safety.
Hold those who choose to commit crimes accountable for their behavior and their release. Public policy affects public safety.
23 November 2010, 4:36 pm Giving of Thanks and Free Pretrial Release
Thanksgiving is a time of giving thanks and celebrating the holiday season with family and friends. Unfortunately it is also the time for taking.
Crime often increases with the beginning of the holiday season. Burglaries, car thefts, shoplifting, robberies, violent crime and other crimes happen with more frequency and can affect any of us. Sadly, the “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” adage isn’t believed by all.
Our hope is that those individuals who choose to commit crimes in our communities will be held accountable for their actions and not just given a slap on the hand. That accountability starts with how a defendant is released after arrest if they are eligible for release.
The private surety bail industry believes that public safety and the wise use of taxpayer dollars should be considered foremost when making a release decision from jail. Too often career criminals with lengthy criminal and driving offense histories, failures to appear and violations of probation continue to be released on taxpayer funds through pretrial services programs. These programs have been couched by proponents as the ONLY means to reduce jail populations and truly protect public safety. Where once such programs were designed to target indigent defendants charged with minor, non-violent crimes, today they say everyone should be entitled to taxpayer release.
Proponents of pretrial services programs say that if people are staying in jail because they can’t afford to get out, that is not fair! Is it fair to the person who was a victim of crime that their perpetrator can be released on their dime? We are talking about people who have been arrested and accused of committing a crime. The fact that pretrial services programs claim it is "offensive" to ask these arrested individuals to do anything whatsoever to inconvenience them to get released from jail is in-and-of itself offensive.
One undeniable fact is this: when someone is released on a bail bond, it doesn’t cost the taxpayer anything! That bail agent is completely financially and physically responsible for the defendant. Bail agents are small business owners who are trying to make a living and make a difference in their communities at the same time. They bail out good and bad individuals everyday but do so knowing they are serving a public safety purpose. Some people make mistakes and find themselves in trouble with an arrest; others flaunt the law and continue to commit crimes until they are caught. Bail agents work with both sides of this spectrum. And bail agents risk their lives to find people who have absconded from court and their responsibility to receive their sentence.
And now, they must compete against the government who wants to release arrested individuals back in to the community. Who then should bear the burden for making sure those released individuals come back to court? Should it be the taxpayers or private industry? If you release someone through a pretrial services program, let them out the front door so to speak, if they don’t show up for court law enforcement is called to try and find the absconded individual using more of our tax dollars.
You see what pretrial services programs won’t publicly tell anyone is that they target people that are likely to post bail. Why? Because they know they are better “candidates” to show up for court as they have done so in the past. Indigency isn’t even considered in most pretrial services programs. You can be a wealthy individual who has means and assets, be charged with a crime, and still be released by taxpayer funds!
Pretrial services programs claim they are essential because they “monitor” people for drug/alcohol testing or electronic monitoring while awaiting case disposition. Some do and some don’t. However, we tend to forget a fundamental principle and that is, a person is innocent until proven guilty. Our society has taken upon itself to assume a paternalistic role to force people who have not yet been found guilty of a crime into “programs” before they have had a trial and a disposition of the case. To engage in an “intervention” and force people into programs before they have had their day in court is suggesting we know what is best for someone else. People may not have to pay for a bail bond, but they are paying through pretrial services programs, which can add up to much more than a one-time bail bond would.
When pretrial services programs get on their soap box and tell the world that it shouldn’t matter how much someone makes or what crime they may have been charged with in order to eligible for a pretrial services program, it says loud and clear that we’ve lost our path of getting back to the fundamentals of what the pretrial stage of accusation is all about.
So those who commit a crime this Thanksgiving holiday may very well be given an expression of thanks or an act of giving on the part of pretrial services programs . . . in the form of free release on your tax dollars!
11 November 2010, 1:34 pm Pretrial Justice Institute States: Connecticut state officials begin to question whether the state’s bail industry protects the public
The Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advocate nationwide for “fair and effective” pretrial practices that eliminate inappropriate detention, optimize diversion from prosecution, and maintain community safety. They, like their sister organization, the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA), have aggressively and publicly stated that compensated sureties should be eliminated. You see, these organizations believe that no one should have to pay for their own release from jail despite whatever crime they have allegedly committed. These defendants should just be able to walk out of jail with a “promise” to return for court or the taxpayers should pay for their release through government-funded pretrial services programs!
So the private surety bail industry always finds it humorous when the PJI attempts to advocate for increased release on taxpayer funds stating that such release “maintains public safety.” The private surety bail industry has been functioning for decades and has been proven by numerous national studies to be the most effective and efficient means of pretrial release. When you have your own money on the line for your release . . . or that of your parent’s, grandparents or friend’s . . . you inherently have more incentive to behave and attend all of your court hearings.
A recent article in the Connecticut Post (CTpost.com) entitled “Officials say Connecticut's bail system in need of major reforms” highlighted this issue of bail agents undercutting and discounting bail bonds and the problems that such practices cause. As the private surety bail industry has repeatedly stated, it does not condone bail agents who engage in unethical and unprofessional behavior, such as undercutting or discounting bail bonds for defendants. The overwhelming majority of bail agents across this country abide by the laws and regulations of the industry because they live and work in the same communities they release defendants into. They do care about public safety.
However, as is the practice of the PJI, they posted a blog article that conveniently failed to point out the reality of bail releases in the criminal justice system. Thus, we felt it necessary to offer our point of view and highlight several instances regarding the PJI’s negative slant toward the bail industry in the Connecticut article:
· The article stated that there are more than 17,000 accused felons in Connecticut who have skipped out on their bail bonds. According to Connecticut’s state Judicial Branch, there are 17,856 pending cases in the state in which criminal defendants failed to appear for their court cases while either free on bonds or on written promises to appear. Written promises to appear (release on recognizance) are issued daily by either the Judge or jail personnel but NOT the bail agent. To slant the perception that all failures to appear are solely due to the bail industry is completely false.
· National research has shown that the vast majority of defendants who fail to appear on a bail bond are apprehended and rearrested by their bail agent and brought back to the jurisdiction of the court at no cost to the taxpayer. When a defendant fails to appear on a “promise to appear” or other taxpayer-funded release mechanisms, more tax dollars are simply spent to try to find them taking valuable time away from fighting and preventing crime.
· PJI’s blog stated that “unfortunately, a criminal justice system that primarily leaves the decision of pretrial release to a for-profit industry will never protect communities from dangerous individuals.” Again, a totally false statement. The Connecticut article clearly stated that it is the Judge who has the ultimate authority to decide to give a defendant a bond or order the defendant held without bond. The bond amount is set based on the recommendation of a state bail commissioner, who has interviewed the defendant, and following arguments from prosecutors and defense lawyers. It is based on this detailed information and dialog, which the bail agent is never a party to, that the Judge sets or denies bail. Once bond has been granted the bail agent is simply a tool to affect the release of the defendant – in no way is the release mechanism the decision of the bail agent!
· The PJI blog also stated, “the only release requirements bondsmen have to satisfy are financial – which means that, even where bondsmen are requiring the mandatory 10% fee from defendants, dangerous defendants with money will obtain release. Connecticut does not require its bondsmen to screen defendants for risk or likelihood of re-arrest – which means bondsmen, will only ever make their decisions based upon financial incentives.” Bail agents assess the risk of each and every defendant they release on a bail bond as in the end it is their livelihood on the line. Yes, financial incentives are a part of the equation as with any other business decision. However, bail agents put their lives on the line each and every time they must pursue a defendant who has failed to appear. As a citizen, I would much more appreciate knowing that when a criminal defendant willingly fails to appear to accept their judgment in court, that someone who has a financial incentive to find them is looking for them rather than a government worker sitting in an office who has no face-to-face interaction with the defendant or their family, and simply pushes a paper to the court when a defendant fails to appear.
· The PJI also asserts that “defendants charged with very serious crimes are likely to have higher bonds placed on them, they will inevitably represent higher income for bondsmen, making them the most appealing clients.” The bail industry is often a family business and as such, bail agents often interact with other families unfortunately involved in the criminal justice system. Repeat offenders tend to go to a bail agent they know and trust and these individuals make up the “bread and butter” of a bail agent’s business. Yes, defendants with high bond amounts who seek out a bail agent are welcomed if the risk is good. However, the vast majority of bonds posted by a bail agent are the small and repeat ones.
· As highlighted in the Connecticut Post article, Bridgeport, Connecticut’s own State's Attorney, John Smriga, said the current system puts witnesses and victims in criminal cases in jeopardy because the “current bond statute makes it possible for violent offenders to get out of jail with little financial risk to themselves, creating a serious risk that these individuals will not comply with court-ordered conditions of release endangering victims and witnesses or simply not returning to court." Bail agents don’t set the bond schedule; Judges do. When violent offenders are released from jail, we believe the public would again much rather have someone with a financial incentive to be watching that defendant rather than a government worker who has nothing to lose when the defendant fails to appear or is rearrested.
· Connecticut state law also requires bail agents to accept promissory notes from defendants for release, which can put the bail agent in danger when attempting to collect on those notes.
· Representative Michael Lawlor, co-chair of the Connecticut legislature’s Judiciary Committee, acknowledges that those who pose a serious safety risk are let out of jail and those that don't often remain behind bars. Jails with effective government-funded pretrial services programs should focus on such individuals who are truly indigent and have committed a non-violent offense. However, these individuals are often over looked by government-funded pretrial services programs while they release defendants charged with serious offenses and who have the ability to secure their own release from jail.
The Connecticut article pointed out that Representative Lawlor has introduced bills five times in an effort to put controls on the bail bonds business yet each bill has failed. The last bill would have required bondsmen to certify under oath on a form that they were charging the legal premium. Professional and ethical bail agents shouldn’t have a problem with certifying under oath they have charged a defendant the legally required premium. Those that do shouldn’t be in the business.
Unlike the PJI, the private surety bail industry has been working with the Connecticut legislature and the Department of Insurance, at their request, for six sessions now in an effort to resolve the irresponsible bonding practices of the few bail agents who participate in unethical behavior. This same legislature has rejected the government-funded pretrial services system that the PJI and others tout as they understand such system creates more problems than it solves. The private surety bail industry will continue to welcome our involvement in bettering the criminal justice system in Connecticut and all other states.
The problems that should haunt the citizens of Connecticut are the scare tactics the PJI is purporting and not the value the private surety bail industry brings to the criminal justice system.