Accountability Matters: Commercial Bail is For Profit and Proud of It

Money WorksA couple weeks back we wrote an article on the surprisingly controversial topic of “MONEY” in the criminal justice system and how it is being used by some in the public sector pretrial community like a Scarlett letter to shame the commercial bail industry. Unfortunately this argument is used all too often and it is an argument that in my opinion has no merit or relevance to the issues of jail overcrowding and bail reform.

The commercial bail profession is exactly that…a profession. It employs tens of thousands of men and women all over the country. And yes…those people earn a salary for providing a service. Is that a horrible thing? Is it wrong for the tax accounting industry to charge a fee for preparing someone’s taxes? Is it wrong for your insurance agent to earn a commission from State Farm or Allstate for selling and managing your homeowners or car insurance policy? Is it wrong for your dry cleaner to charge you for cleaning your clothes? Last time I remember, these types of financial transactions were seen as valuable services and not frowned upon as for-profit money hungry business owners taking advantage of poor unaware consumers.

That being said, why is there so much criticism of the commercial bail industry for getting paid for the service that they provide? That service…facilitating the pretrial release of a qualified defendant with the assurance that the defendant will make ALL scheduled court appearances…not just the convenient ones, but ALL of them. It only seems logical that if a private for profit entity can accomplish those two tasks, facilitating release and assuring appearance at court, that those in the criminal justice system would support and applaud the efforts of such a business. Add to that, the ability of this private for-profit industry to accomplish these tasks more efficiently and more effectively than any other form of pretrial release at NO COST to the counties, and the criticism of the commercial bail industry becomes even more mind boggling.

Before I go further, I think it is important to point out a very important fact and one that is so painfully obvious that it is almost laughable that I have to mention it….public sector pretrial services employees DO NOT WORK FOR FREE. Yep…every pretrial services employee gets paid to do their job. In fact, everyone at the Pretrial Justice Institute gets a salary too. Everyone at NAPSA gets a salary. Everyone at the VERA Institute gets one. Just like you, me and everyone else, they do a job for greenbacks. In some pretrial programs, like those managed by the VERA Institute in New Orleans, the employees and executives of VERA make salaries (some over $100,000 a year) that are so large they dwarf those of some of New Orleans true essential public sector employees like school teachers, police officers and fire-fighters. All the while, pointing the finger at others for making money for doing their job. And as much as they might not want to admit this fact about themselves or even talk about it, it is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

However, in the eyes of some public sector proponents getting paid or “funded” as they put it is a non-issue because they a providing FREE services to the public. Newsflash to those in the public sector pretrial community that think this way…Nothing is FREE. Everything has a cost, whether you want to accept, ignore it or spin it. Asking someone to purchase an insurance policy to be released from jail has a cost just as does letting someone out of jail for “FREE” (without an insurance policy guaranteeing their return) has a cost. The difference is that the insurance policy is paid by those that are close to the defendant and vouch for them, and so called FREE release through a pretrial program is paid for …or shall we say “funded” by taxpayer dollars. And by the way, notice that one of the options is actually an “insurance policy.” An insurance policy guaranteeing the return of that defendant to court… and the other option has no guarantee. Which method are you more comfortable with as a taxpaying member of the public? That is a no brainer in my opinion.

Money aside, it is unfortunate and to be honest, a little scary that so much of the debate around pretrial release is not about effectiveness and not about efficiency. It has been warped by some in the pretrial community into a discussion about profit and money, and the leading premise being sold by some public sector pretrial proponents in that discussion is that both are evil, unfair and unnecessary. All the while, these groups spend over $100,000,000 in taxpayer funds annually ($58 million alone in Washington DC) running their programs, paying their employees and letting defendants out of jail for FREE ) remember with NO GUARANTEE OF RETURN and no accountability by those that are responsible for ensuring those people make it to court.

I would like to propose that instead of focusing on profits and non-profits, that the pretrial/bail reform debate focus on things that are more important. Things like effectiveness. Things like efficiency. Things like accountability. There is no shortage of data or research that answers those questions. There have been private research studies, government funded research studies, educational research studies done, and they have the same conclusion. Financially secured release is the most effective way to ensure that those released pretrial show up for court. Unfortunately for the public sector pretrial community, none of that data generated in those independent studies support their approach. That is why we never hear them mention it. That is why it doesn’t enter the conversation. When you are dealing with issues like public safety and the criminal justice system shouldn’t that be the thrust of the discussion? Shouldn’t those things be the foundation of the solution? Letting more and more people out of jail more quickly and for FREE in order to be “fair” is not the answer. It only exacerbates the problem and teaches those the break the law that there will be no accountability and no real punishment for their actions. And rewarding bad behavior in this way only leads to one thing…more bad behavior.

If some of those in the pretrial community want to have a debate about money and the cost of business, the commercial bail industry is ready to have that discussion all day long. Because the commercial bail industry operates at NO COST to the county while public sector pretrial programs operate at significant cost. When all is said and done, the reality is that everyone pays and everyone gets paid and it’s time for the pot to stop calling the kettle black. It is time for us all to put real thought into making the criminal justice system work as effectively and as fairly as possible by using the tools and processes that work best.

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The Bail Bond Industry Participates in Important AB109 Discussion in Pomona, California

AB109 panel discussionLast week at the Fairplex at Pomona, the Pomona Chamber of Commerce held a special luncheon to discuss the impact that Assembly Bill 109 (Governor Brown’s Criminal Justice Realignment Bill) has had on both public safety and the community.  This event was open to the public and was the first of its kind, bringing together a wide range of concerned stakeholders including law enforcement, the judiciary, public safety advocates and the commercial bail industry.  The luncheon included a panel discussion among several criminal justice experts:

  • Kim Raney, Covina Police Chief (President of the California Police Chief’s Association)
  • Rodney Jones, Fontana Police Chief
  • Honorable Steve Blades, Presiding Judge East Judicial District
  • Lynne Brown, Co-Founder, Advocates for Public Safety (APS)
  • Dwight Brown, Co-Founder, Advocates for Public Safety (APS)
  • Eric Granof, Vice President Corporate Communications, AIA Family of Companies

AB109 panel discussion - AudienceFor purposes of background, AB109 was created in response to a decision affirmed by the US Supreme Court regarding California’s legal requirement to reduce prison overcrowding to 110,000 inmates or face the wholesale early and unsupervised release of approximately 33,000 inmates.  In a little over a year, realignment has transferred over 24,500 inmates from the state prison system down to the county jails.  In this process, the state has provided counties with billions of dollars in funding to handle this unprecedented shift in prisoner responsibility.  This important reduction will help California end current and avoid any future costly litigation as well as an expensive receivership.  In the past, all inmates released from state prisons were supervised by the state parole system.  Beginning on October 1, 2011, after serving their legally required state prison sentences, inmates with a current offense (unfortunately, this doesn’t take past offenses into consideration) that were identified in a “non-non-non” (non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offense) category were to be supervised by county probation as opposed to state probation.  Moving forward all new convicted offenders falling into the “non-non-non” category will serve out their sentences in the county jail as opposed to state prison.

AB109 panel discussion - SheriffEach panel participant provided the over 80 attendees with interesting and informative information on the impacts of AB109.  The general theme across all the panelists was that AB109 was having a significant negative impact on public safety in communities all over the state.  At one point in the presentation, Lynne and Dwight Brown of APS showed mug shots and background profiles of several extremely dangerous individuals that had been released through AB109.  While these individuals were deemed eligible for release through AB109 because of the non-non-non designation of their current conviction, their “full” backgrounds and profiles told a much different story.  In fact, many of those released were anything but non-violent, and most experts would agree pose a significant threat to the communities in which they are released.

AB109 panel discussion - APSOne of the most interesting presentations was given by the representative of the commercial bail bond industry, Eric Granof.  Mr. Granof talked about the collateral impact that AB109 was having on the pretrial populations within the jails.  County jails were designed to house defendants that were awaiting trial or those that had shorter sentences (typically 1 year or less).  Under AB109, state prisoners are being transferred to county jails and in the process are taking up valuable space traditionally reserved for pretrial populations.  In response to the influx of state prisoners, county jails are finding ways to release more and more pretrial defendants on their own recognizance and through taxpayer funded pretrial services programs than ever before.

The challenge with this type of release, as pointed out by Mr. Granof, is that when people are released on their own promise to come to court with little to no supervision, research has shown that they do not appear for court or do so much less often.  Couple that statistic with the defendant’s knowledge that jails are overcrowded and the chances of them being rearrested for not showing up for court are pretty much zero, you have a recipe for more crime and dysfunction.  In other words, if you remove accountability from the system, the system fails to operate as it was intended.

AB109 panel discussion - GranofIt was at this point that Mr. Granof explained the role and effectiveness of the commercial bail bond industry. By financially securing the release of a defendant with a commercial bail bond, the bail industry is in essence guaranteeing the appearance of that person in court.  If they don’t show, then the bail agent and in turn the family of the defendant, is responsible for the full amount of the bond.  This financial incentive or “skin in the game” concept is what makes the commercial bail industry so effective.  When people have something on the line, especially something financial, research shows that they perform.  And in the case of commercial bail, that means they show up for court.  They show up more often than other forms of release, and while they are out they stay out of trouble in the process.

Mr. Granof also spent some time dispelling several myths surrounding the bail bond industry.  First, he explained that what people see on television and in the movies is not an accurate picture of the industry.  Second, he dispelled the myth that bail is bad for victims.  It is in fact quite the contrary.  By getting defendants to appear in court, the commercial bail industry is basically ensuring that the victim of that crime is getting a chance at justice.  If that defendant does not show up for court, there is no trial and no justice for the victim.  The last myth that Mr. Granof discussed was that of commercial bail being the cause of overcrowding.  Many opponents of the bail industry make the claim that 70% of the people in jail are there in pretrial status.  They then say that the jails are crowded because this 70% of defendants are languishing away in custody because they can’t afford a bail bond.  Mr. Granof explained that the 70% number of pretrial defendants in jail is not accurate when it comes to describing who is actually eligible for bail.  Just because someone is designated as being in “pretrial status” it doesn’t mean that they are eligible to be bailed out.  In fact, a recent study, quoted by Mr. Granof, broke that 70% down and came out with only 13% of pretrial defendants being eligible for a bail bond….a far cry from the 70% claim.  He also referred to the states of Oregon, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin, which are all dealing with jail overcrowding issues.  The interesting point of this reference was that none of those four states have commercial bail.

AB109 panel discussion - Audience

The panel discussion ended with several questions from the audience and a final closing statement from the Executive Director of the Chamber, Frank Garcia.  In summary, the general feeling by most attending the event was that the current solution that AB109 is providing is not acceptable when it comes to public safety.  A solution is needed at all levels of the system…a solution that takes public safety into account first and foremost, and that ensures the proper amount of supervision and accountability for those that are released (whether that release is post-conviction or pretrial).    According to event creator, Gloria Mitchell, a long time Pomona business woman and owner of Gloria Mitchell Bail Bonds, she hopes that this type of forum and conversation is just the first of many, as we all look to find the best way to manage our prison and jail populations in the most efficient and effective way possible while always maintaining the safety of our communities.

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ExpertBail Agent James Lindblad Talking Bail Bonds Hawaii Style

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If you have some extra time and want to learn a little bit about the bail bondindustry from one of its most experienced and professional bail agents, than watch this video of ExpertBail Agent James Lindblad’s interview on the “Joy in Our Town” Television program last week.  In this interview James does a great job educating the host, Laureen Tanaka, on the role of a bail bondsman and bail bonds in the criminal justice system.  Additionally, he talks about the ExpertBail Network and what it means to be a member of this prestigious, “Better Business Bureau-like” Network.

James has been in the bail bond industry for 36 years and has owned and operated A-1 Bonding in Honolulu, Hawaii for over 30 years.   To read up a little more on James, check out his bail bond agent “Making a Difference” story.

via ExpertBail Agent James Lindblad Talking Bail Bonds Hawaii Style.