Bail Reform: The True Cost of FREE


The Pretrial Justice Institute Finally Admits that Public Sector FREE Pretrial Release and Supervision are Too Costly…Their Solution, FREE Release with No Supervision.

In my many years of defending the commercial bail industry from public sector advocates, I have seen it all. I have seen these advocates lie about their programs’ effectiveness, draw sketchy conclusions from statistically irrelevant research (that of course they conducted themselves) and perpetuate false narratives to misinform the public about the so called “evils” of the commercial bail industry, or as they refer to it, “money bail.” Even with all that, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t shocked and confused when I read the most recent article published by the Pretrial Justice Institute’s guest blogger, Charlotte McPherson. In this July 19th blog entitled “Pretrial Supervision, Like Detention, Should Be Carefully Limited.” Ms. McPherson made the following comment:

“Jailing people accused of crimes can be a costly endeavor, but so can releasing them and placing them on supervision. For example, drug testing and electronic monitoring are not cheap, nor is the pretrial officer’s time that is required to monitor compliance for these and other pieces of supervision. With tightening budgets for pretrial programs, defendants are increasingly required to cover the cost of their own drug testing, electronic monitoring, and other forms of supervision that may accompany release. In some cases, the cost of money bail would have been cheaper for the defendant than the cost of their supervision in the long term.”

Now think about this for a moment. Ms. McPherson is saying that the cost of releasing defendants through a public sector pretrial program is too high and supervising them is proving to be too difficult. If I am not mistaken, isn’t that what the commercial bail industry has been saying about public sector pretrial release for decades…that it doesn’t save money. Not only have we been saying it, we have shared third party research study after research study that shows that public sector programs do not save counties money, but rather cost them potentially millions.

“bail reformJust look at New Jersey. The argument made by those that support public sector pretrial was that their programs are capable of supervising defendants just as effectively as commercial bail and saving the county money because the person is no longer taking up jail space. Unfortunately, every study done has shown both of these statements to be wrong. Pretrial programs are not effective in supervising defendants. Studies show that defendants fail to appear for court much more often when supervised by a public sector pretrial program. Also, pretrial programs do not save money, but instead create a costly new layer of bureaucracy in an already cash strapped criminal justice system. In the New Jersey pretrial discussions, a Towson State Professor of Economics, testified that a pretrial program in New Jersey could cost the state upwards of $500 million a year. Regardless of this insightful research and expert opinion, New Jersey moved forward anyway and passed legislation to create pretrial programs across the state.

The unfortunate result is that New Jersey now needs to come up with more money (as predicted) to fund these so called “money saving programs.” And just for the record, and because I like to point out the obvious, commercial bail just continues to play its important role in the criminal justice system costing the people of New Jersey $0 and effectively supervising defendants and getting them to court.

The other aspect of this quote from Ms. McPherson that is shocking to me is the idea that she seems to think that supervision of defendants who are released via pretrial needs to be minimized. Are you serious? Letting defendants out for free and supervising them with taxpayer funded pretrial programs is one thing, but letting defendants out for free and not supervising them at all is both myopic and dangerous. If public sector pretrial programs are less effective than commercial bail when they actually try and supervise defendants, than how in the world are they going to be more effective when you don’t supervise them at all?

Public sector pretrial advocates are so driven to eliminate commercial bail that they are willing to let as many people out of jail as quickly and as irresponsibly as possible so that they can ensure their existence. Unfortunately in the process they undermine the validity of the criminal justice system in the process and put the public in danger for the purposes of achieving their own agenda.

It seems to me that those that support public sector pretrial programs don’t understand the purpose of pretrial release in the first place. It is not about release. It has never been about release. Yes a person is released from jail as part of the process, but the only reason you release them is based on a promise and a guarantee that they will appear at ALL court appearances. They best way to ensure that appearance is by financially tying that defendant and their loved ones to that release, and supervising them while they are out. You remove either of those elements and you will have a less effective mechanism for ensuring appearance. We have been saying this for decades and the research has proven this for decades.

The private sector/public sector pretrial debate has been going on for over 50 years and I don’t expect it to end any time soon. I do give the Pretrial Justice Institute credit though for coming out and admitting that “FREE” supervision is costly and ineffective. But even with that admission, which I don’t think they even fully understand the ramifications of, I do not expect them to change their goals or mission anytime soon.

What I do expect with certainty is that the public sector pretrial community will continue to shift and change their approach and narrative to attack the commercial bail industry. It is like throwing spaghetti on a wall and seeing what sticks. Unfortunately for the public sector pretrial community, their ideas are undercooked and not ready to serve to the public for free, despite their claims otherwise. They throw FREE release and supervision against the wall and now they find out it is too expensive. They throw risk assessments against the wall and now they find out that they are racially biased. They throw electronic monitoring against the wall and now they find out that it might be violating a defendant’s civil rights. And of course, the latest string of spaghetti they are throwing against the wall is the constitutionality of bail. In fact, they haven’t just thrown one strand of spaghetti but have thrown a whole handful of strands across the country. The question of whether they stick or not is still out there, but if history tells us something, the primary goal of these public sector pretrial advocates isn’t public safety or improving the effectiveness of the system. It is to completely eliminate the private sector commercial bail industry at any cost. They attack us like they have some personal vendetta against our industry, and care less about how effective we are at doing it. It really goes beyond common sense.

Meanwhile, in the face of all this craziness, the commercial bail industry will continue to do what it does. And that is ensuring that the criminal justice system has a chance to work; ensuring that defendants show up for court; and ensuring that victims get a chance at justice. After all, isn’t that what the pretrial release concept is all about in the first place?

The Unanswered Question of Bail Reform: Who Pays?

As a follow up to my last blog post, The Bail Bond Industry: A Scapegoat of Convenience, I wanted to focus this blog post on the question that no one ever seems to want to bring up in the “Bail Reform” discussion.  And that question is…Who pays? Whether it is the state of New Jersey wanting to expand its pretrial services agencies or Maryland’s recent efforts at Bail Reform, public sector pretrial release proponents never seem to be concerned about the real elephant in the room…the money and where will it come from.

The public sector pretrial community for years has touted the success of the Washington D.C. pretrial services agency.  It is the case study that they believe is the perfect pretrial model for success and the blueprint that all counties in the U.S should follow.  However, while they tout the amazing success of the program, there is one topic that they do not typically talk about…and that is the money…or as I like to say the most important question you can ask, WHO PAYS?  The DC pretrial program monitors 4400 defendants at a whopping cost of $59 million.  That is $13,409 per defendant that is spent to supervise defendants and ensure they show up for court (BTW, the commercial bail industry does the same thing at no cost to the taxpayer).  Additionally, when a defendant fails to appear, the DC pretrial office has the luxury of having the US Marshall Service at their disposal to go after fugitives.  BTW, just for the record the success rate of the DCPSA is 88%.  That means 12% of defendants never appear for court.  Now compare that to the commercial bail industry which has a 98% success rate.  It is really amazing to think that a 12% failure rate is considered a success in the public sector.  Just imagine if your airline only got to its destination 88% of the time, or your bank only got your account balance right 88% of the time…would that be acceptable.  And just for the record, the person that funds the Washington DC pretrial program…you, the US Taxpayer.

Now in order for you to fully understand the magnitude of the dollars we are talking about, let me put this in perspective.  If you were to apply the $13,409 per defendant to a typical metropolitan county in the US that doesn’t serve 4400 defendants, but rather 20,000 defendants a year that cost balloons to over $268,180,000 to provide ONE typical metropolitan county in the US a DC like pretrial services agency (FYI…there are over 3000 counties in the US).  And remember that this typical local county won’t have the resources of the US Marshal Service available to help it track down those defendants that fail to appear. They will instead have to rely on an already overburdened and under resourced local law enforcement agency.  What this does is create significant lapses in public safety.  Either police have to put aside regular duties to pursue a growing number of fugitive warrants, or they have to ignore the fugitive warrants and go about their regular law enforcement duties to protect the public.  Whatever they decide to do, public safety is impacted in a negative way.  And please don’t misunderstand my point.  It is not law enforcements fault. The fault lies with an ineffective public sector program that costs counties money they don’t have and requires resources that are already overburdened.  Additionally, these public sector programs do not have the proper incentives and levels of accountability to perform at the highest level possible as does the private sector (i.e. the commercial bail industry). Most importantly, let’s not forget that the commercial bail bond industry is not only the most effective form of pretrial release (proven time and time again by countless research studies and academic papers), but also costs the county $0.  And this is a talking point that never seems to come up in the discussion of “bail reform.”

In a time where local states and county governments are facing tougher and tougher fiscal challenges, the idea of replacing private sector commercial bail with public sector, taxpayer funded pretrial agencies and diversion programs is not only a poor public safety decision, but more importantly also a fiscally irresponsible one.

What the bail reform movement needs is less pie in the sky ideology, but rather more realistic, evidenced based SOLUTIONS to the problem.  Proposing bigger pretrial service programs with bigger budgets doesn’t solve jail overcrowding.  Convincing decision makers to get rid of a long standing, effective private sector business like the bail bond industry does not rehabilitate career criminals.  Letting more so called “non-violent” offenders out of jail with no supervision and no accountability does not increase public safety.  Instead all these types of ideological recommendations do is exacerbate the problems in the system and deflect decision makers from the real problems.   And please know that I feel the same way towards more commercial bail.  Bail is not the be-all end-all answer to the problems facing our criminal justice system.  I am convinced that the answer does not lie with one solution or the other.  Rather, I believe that the answer involves all aspects of the criminal justice system to work together.  The private sector doing what it does well and the public sector doing what it does well.  But to date, instead of trying to solve the real problems of the system, the public sector pretrial community through its “Bail Reform” movement is putting its efforts into creating market share instead of solutions.

It is time for counties around the country to start approaching the ills of the criminal justice system with a comprehensive approach that truly addresses the roots of the cause of the problems it is facing.  Additionally, our decision makers need to start turning to those in the private sector that have the knowledge and experience to help solve some of these challenges in smart, fiscally responsible ways.


The Bail Bond Industry: A Scapegoat of Convenience

A couple weeks ago I read an article out of New Jersey talking about the ills of the criminal justice system and the need for bail reform.  The article started with telling the story of a defendant who was released on a reduced bail amount and has since been rearrested for another violent crime.  The article then goes on to talk about the many ills of the criminal justice system all couched under the umbrella of the need for “Bail Reform.” The issues identified in the article were: Jails being overcrowded, inmates being warehoused instead of rehabilitated, bail bond agents writing bail with payment plans, and so on.  Not only did the article discuss these issues as a need for bail reform but also put the blame for them squarely on the commercial bail industry.  After reading the article a couple more times, I felt myself getting more agitated and confused.  I kept saying to myself what does this have to do with the bail industry?  What have we done to have so much hate and resentment thrown towards our industry by those in the public sector? Why are we being held responsible for the criminal justice system falling short? The only answer, the bail industry was being made a scapegoat of convenience.

In order to try and rationalize things a bit, I started to breakdown the potential issues one by one and see if this overzealous criticism and finger pointing was deserved or really as misguided as I thought.  First, I looked at jail overcrowding.  Are people locked up in jail, because they can’t afford a bail bond?  Well, if you read into the article a bit you can see that the author is actually says that people are getting out “too easy” with bail through payment plans.  But even without payment plans, the concept behind bail is to facilitate the release or make it more attainable for families who can’t afford the full amount of the bail.  By assuming part of the financial risk the bail agent not only makes it easier for families to get their loved ones home, but also guarantee to the court that the defendant will show up for ALL court appearances once they are out.   So to say that bail causes jail overcrowding couldn’t be further from the truth.  Also, media coverage has shown us that states like Kentucky, Illinois, Oregon and Wisconsin all have jail overcrowding issues.  The interesting point there is that none of those states have commercial bail.  So I think we can cross that off the list.

Next, I looked at the issue of warehousing versus rehabilitation.  I tried to figure out where commercial bail plays a role in keeping convicted felons warehoused in jails and prisons instead of rehabilitating them.  This one was actually pretty easy to figure out.  Bail has nothing to do with warehousing or rehabilitation.  Bail is about “appearance.”  When a judge makes the determination that a defendant is eligible for pretrial release and sets a bail amount, it becomes the bail agent’s responsibility to ensure that those defendants that they do release on bail show up for ALL of their court appearances.  That is it.  We guarantee “appearance.”  To say that the commercial bail industry has failed to do their job and has caused the current problems in the system is not only a red herring, but also grossly misleading and accusatory.  The concept of bail is and always has been about getting defendants to court so that they could be held accountable.  And in the history of our modern day criminal justice system, there has yet to be a better form of ensuring a defendant’s appearance than a financially secured bond obtained through a commercial bail agent.  Every legitimate study, every independent research report and countless academic articles written on the subject of “pretrial release effectiveness” undeniably support this claim.

So if the commercial bail industry is not the problem than what is?  And then it hit me.  That question is not only the fleeting one, but also the answer.  No one knows what the problem is.  Without trying to truly get a snap shot of the make-up of the pretrial populations and understand the wide range of reasons why people are there, you can’t come up with a real solution to the problem.  And you definitely cannot accurately identify what the problem is in the first place. Additionally, if this is the case and the problem is so clearly undefined as it appears to be, than why are states like New Jersey proposing “Bail Reform” in the first place?  Why are decision makers proposing to throw millions of dollars of taxpayer funds at a problem that they do not know the actual cause or the most effective solution? I think these are all very important questions and ones that need to be answered by those looking to reform the criminal justice system and abolish commercial bail.  (In fact, this topic would make a pretty interesting blog post…hint, hint).

If we want to truly solve the ills of the criminal justice system there needs to be full and transparent cooperation between the public and private sector pretrial community.  In other words, we have to stop creating scapegoats and pointing fingers at each other and instead start solving problems with each other.The commercial bail industry is NOT THE PROBLEM in the criminal justice system.  Anyone who thinks so is not trying to solve the problem, but rather trying to discredit a legitimate and effective industry for their own ideological agenda and gain. If all the stakeholders are able to come together (including the commercial bail industry), I am extremely confident that together we could not only solve some of these challenges, but also strike a deeper balance between the social justice and criminal justice sides of the equation that everyone desires.  In this way, we can ensure that all parties are contributing to the solution in the best way possible and that ultimately both victims and defendants are getting their day in court, justice is being served and accountability is being maintained for us all.  I look forward to reading your comments.


Bail Month – Pretrial Service Agencies on the Attack While Ignoring their Own Failures

As we move further along in the Pretrial Justice Institute’s self-declared Bail Month, I wanted to point out a recent story out of Minnesota that I believe should open people’s eyes to the real failures of the pretrial community.  This morning the Star Tribune published an article about the 100s of people with mental illness languishing away in Minnesota jails.  Now, it is important to understand that this is not an article that the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) was behind.  Nor was it a story that the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) was behind.  How do I know?  I know, because it doesn’t point the finger at commercial bail as the cause and the problem.  And just for the record, they definitely wouldn’t be behind this story, because it is ultimately reporting on the failures of their own programs.  As most people know, the pretrial community (especially groups like PJI and JPI) isn’t much for discussing the real issues around the criminal justice system.  Instead these two organizations would rather spend valuable tax dollars (which they are constantly complaining about not having enough of) and private donor dollars to publically defame and disqualify one of the most effective components of the criminal justice system…and yes, I am talking of course about the commercial bail industry.

The interesting and troubling thing to me about this article (which can be viewed here… “Left in limbo, hundreds of Minnesotans with mental illness languish in jail” ) is that it really opened my eyes to the real misguided motivation of thepretrial community.  And I say misguided because, personally, I honestly believe there is a purpose and role for pretrial services in helping people with special needs, but unfortunately in reality that purpose and role goes unfulfilled.

For example, according to the article, “on any given day, the Hennepin County jail holds 100-200 inmates with severe psychiatric disorders.  That represents ¼ of the jail’s population, and they languish there, on average for three months before getting proper psychiatric care.”  Notice how they don’t mention that those people are there because they can’t afford a bail bond.

Now I am under the impression that Pretrial Service Agencies were created to assist and manage these types of populations.  They were designed to assist the truly indigent…those without means and without connections to family…those who have mental health issue or substance dependency/abuse issues.  But the problem is they are failing when it comes to this mission.  Instead they have taken their eye off the ball and focused it squarely on the commercial bail industry.  Nowhere can I ever recall seeing something about the intent of pretrial services (when it was first conceived) to be about people should not have to pay for a bail bond.  It has always been about making sure that those that need help get it.  So why today is the sole purpose and mission of the pretrial community to eliminate money bail?  Why are they so focused and committed to eliminating us as a pretrial release mechanism (especially when it has been proven time and time again to be the most effective way to ensure appearance)?  Why are they so focused, that they would spend countless taxpayer dollars designating an entire month to spreading lies and negative stories about the bail industry?  Wouldn’t it seem more appropriate to having a month dedicated to helping the people being held with mental disorders?  Wouldn’t it be more beneficial and appropriate to have month dedicated to honoring the pretrial community’s successes in helping people with substance abuse issues?  Those are the questions that I believe people want answered.  Those are the questions that I believe the pretrial community needs to answer and should be answering.

Imagine if the pretrial community focused on achieving the mission on which they were first created…to helping those that can’t help themselves.  Our jails might be a different place and our tax dollars might be going towards good as opposed to going towards public relations efforts and smear campaigns.

So here are my recommendations to both JPI and PJI.  Designate a month dedicated to improving public safety.  Reach out to the commercial bail industry and find ways to work together to make sure that the people in the system get the help they need.  Acknowledge the role and effectiveness of commercial bail and show how the public is being protected more effectively when people are released on financially secured bail.  If pretrial would to reach out in this way, I know that the bail community would reciprocate and acknowledge the role and effectiveness of pretrial services.

I honestly believe that if these things could happen, then the criminal justice system would be in a better place.  Together we can be a positive force that is maintaining the proper level of accountability for those who are not indigent and taking care of those in a smart responsible way that are and need assistance.  It is time to stop persecuting and smearing the commercial bail industry and time to start embracing us as a partner.


September is “Bail Month”…How to Celebrate With the Facts

I was pleasantly surprised this week when I was forwarded an announcement from the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) declaring the month of September, “Bail Month.”  Initially I thought, what a great idea, a whole month dedicated to discussing the benefits of commercial bail and sharing the facts on the effectiveness of the industry.  Especially since there is so much data available to PJI and their partner the Justice Policy Institute (JPI)…data that shows how effective commercial bail is and how ineffective pretrial programsare. To add to the excitement, earlier this month the Bureau of Justice Statistics declared 2013 the year of statistics.  Wow, a month dedicated to bail and a year dedicated to statistics, I can’t think of better environment to start a conversation about the commercial bail bond industry.  Let’s see, with so much research to share, where do you think the PJI and JPI partnership will begin?  Here are some good places they might consider…and just so you know when I say “places” I am talking about the volumes of research studies that they can tap into and share.  For example, there is:

  • The Bureau of Justice Statistics studies spanning 14 years (1990-2004) of release data in the country’s 75 most populous counties.  These studies (year after year) showed that commercial bail was the most effective form of pretrial release for both appearance and reduced recidivism.


  • The Tabarrok study, which assessed the failure to appear rates of several different types of pretrial release mechanisms, determined that commercial bail was the most effective way to prevent an FTA and ensure a defendants appearance in court.


  • The ALEC study completed in 1995 that assessed the failure to appear rate in California’s three largest counties and determined that commercial bail was the most effective form of release.


  • The ALEC study completed in 1997 that calculated a cost for a failure to appear in California’s three largest counties and determined that Pretrial release programs were potentially costing the counties millions of dollars.


  • The JFA Institute Study completed in 2012 that shows that a very small portion (13%) of those in pretrial status in Los Angeles County are eligible for bail and that the jails are not crowded because people are languishing away unable to afford a bail bond.


  • The University of Texas at Dallas Study that looked at 22,000 releases during 2008 and compared 4 types of release mechanisms, ultimately determining that commercial bail was the most effective way to ensure that defendants show up for court.  An additional finding from this study was that the cost of an FTA was discovered to be approximately $1800 per defendant.  Using that cost figure, it was determined that commercial bail saved Dallas County over $11 Million.

With so much research available to them, and remember it is the “Year of Statistics,” I wonder which study they will use.  Okay, to be honest, we all know which of the above studies they will end up using… NONE OF THEM.  So then the next question is what studies will they use that aren’t on the list above?  Once again, the answer is unfortunately and very predictably NONE.  Why?  Because no study exists or has ever been done that shows that releasing a defendant through a pretrial program is more effective than commercial bail.

So then why would PJI and JPI declare that September is Bail Month?  That is a good question?  The answer of course is not to promote bail, or even promote pretrial (because it is hard to do that without any statistics…and remember, 2013 is the year of statistics, right?).  The answer is that the pretrial community is going to ramp up their taxpayer funded anti–bail propaganda machine to once again spread lies and mis-information about the commercial bail industry (much like last year’s efforts which resulted in the creation of the War on Public Safety document by the American Bail Coalition).

The most unfortunate thing about this is that the pretrial community isn’t doing this because it benefits local communities and law enforcement.  They aren’t doing this to educated people on the benefits and effectiveness of pretrial release (because that would make sense…and also, because we know that is too difficult to fabricate).  They aren’t doing this because it benefits crime victims and various advocacy groups.  And they are definitely not doing this because it saves counties money and lowers recidivism rates.  Then why, you ask?  Because it serves the purpose of the pretrial supporters.  In their mind, they need to constantly justify how good they are by declaring how bad commercial bail is, and in doing so they are able to feel good about themselves.  The problem is feeling good about yourself and just saying you’re better doesn’t make you better.

If the pretrial community wants to declare September “Bail Month” then I think the bail community should fully embrace and endorse their call to action.  I move that during the month of September that the bail industry dispense and share “our” collective knowledge and research with those in the criminal justice system.  We need to make sure that the real “statistics” are being shared so that local jurisdictions can make the best criminal justice decisions possible.  It is time for the bail community to stand up and be heard and I can’t think of a better time to do so.  After all, it is Bail Month.

If you would like to receive copies of any of the above research studies, please visit our bail bond resource library and select which studies you are interested in.