Thursday, February 4, 2010

Nationwide Legislative Initiatives Regarding Pretrial Services/Release

Nationwide, the private surety bail industry is fighting to promote legislation that would protect the further misuse of taxpayer funds by pretrial services/release programs and mandate that they adhere to their original mission of helping indigent defendants charged with first-time and/or non-violent offenses to be released from jail pending the disposition of their case. The private surety bail industry has a proven track record of providing the most effective and efficient means of pretrial release while saving taxpayers millions of dollars!

Bail agents are financially and physically responsible for defendants they release on bail; unacceptable risk is the only reason a bail agent wouldn't bond a defendant out of jail. If a defendant has no one in the community or family members willing to stand behind him financially to get out of jail, it speaks volumes regarding the accountability of that defendant. Despite the claim of pretrial services/release programs that defendants languish in jail simply because they can't afford a monetary bond, it is not true. Few defendants remain in jail simply because they can't afford ten percent of the bond, which in many cases is anywhere from a $100 to $500 depending on their offense.

Pretrial services/release programs don't want anyone to have to post a monetary bond to get out of jail - despite whatever criminal act they may have committed or whatever financial resources they may have. Where is the accountability in that? It seems to only reward criminal behavior because the defendant knows despite what crime he commits, he/she would be able to walk out of jail free and no one will be tracking them. If they fail to appear, again, no one will make a great effort to find them because law enforcement is already overburdened fighting and/or preventing other crimes. Your tax dollars just keep on being siphoned by the system.

Let's set the record straight: bail agents do not determine who gets out of jail and who doesn't. The court surrenders no release power to a bail agent. The decision as to whether a defendant is released and under what mechanism lies directly with the court. The relationship of the bail agent with the court is a contractual one for the purpose of ensuring the defendant appears in court. As an added benefit, the bail agent also helps to enhance public safety because he/she takes detailed information on the defendant, their family, friends, place of employment, residency, hobbies, social habits and even adds conditions to the bond contract such as curfews. And, collateral may be secured by the defendant's family as an added layer of accountability. Afterall, would you want to make your Mom or Dad, Grandparents or siblings lose something of value simply because you didn't want to show up for court one day? Do you think a pretrial services/release program integrates this type of system of care into their release contract? Think again!

Despite all of the levels of physical and financial accountability the private surety bail industry provides, pretrial services/release programs continue to refer to our industry as "greedy bondsmen" who only are in it for a profit. What is the motivation of pretrial services/release programs? Many such programs have grown into hugh bureaucratic programs that receive millions of taxpayer dollars in essence to compete with private enterprise. They will fight tooth and nail before they have to lose any staff or have their program cut in anyway - and you pay for it.

If there are so many people in jail who can't afford to pay a monetary bond and are only charged with minor crimes, then such programs should focus their attention on that population and let the private surety bail industry assist the rest. It should be a win-win situation right? Then why are such programs continuing to attack our industry instead of taking care of the indigent citizens using your tax dollars wisely?

Despite the contention that some bonds are too low and not worth the trouble to write, in actuality, there is no bond too low that a bail agent will not write, as such bonds may lead to larger bonds in the future, as is usually the case. Private surety bail also helps the poor through no interest, easy credit terms. And families appreciate that and take advantage of it. Bail agents do not make money off of the misfortunes of others. The private surety bail industry is like many other industries in that it provides a service and if accepted, the taxpayer should not be expected to pay for it.

The private surety bail industry and pretrial services/release programs share much of the same goals. We both want defendants who pose no threat to the public, are not flight risks and who have not committed a serious crime, to be released from jail. The manner of release however is critcal to ensure public safety and the wise use of taxpayer funds. This should continue to be a shared goal.

Public policy affects public safety.

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