Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Public vs. Private Law Enforcement: Evidence from Bail Jumping

By Eric Helland and Alexander Tabarrok

After being arrested and booked, most felony defendants are released to await trial. On the day of the trial, a substantial percentatge fail to appear. If the failure to appear is not quickly explained, warrants are issued and two quite different systems of pursuit and rearrest are put into action. Public police have the primary responsibility for pursuing and rearresting defendants who were released on their own recongnizance or on cash or government bail. Defendants who made bail by borrowing from a bail agent however, must worry about an entirely differenct pursuer. When a defendant who has borrowd money skips trial, the bail agent forfeits the bond unless the fugitive is soon returned.

As a result, bail agents have an incentive to monitor their charges and ensure that they do not skip. When a defendant does skip, bail agents must pursue and return the defendant to custody. Thirty percent of felony defendants who fail to appear and remain at large after one year become fugitives. The fugitive rate for failure to appear is higher for cash bond or release on own recognizance. The fugitive rate is lower for those defendants released on a surety bond than for any other type of release. The probability of being a fugitive is 64 percent lower on a surety bond compared to a cash bond.

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