Recently, we’ve discussed the national bail reform debate and New York’s current push for reform, and the issue is covered in the media every day. This issue finds people at odds with the bail bonds industry, where they insist that bondsmen aren’t needed. Without bail bonds, there are essentially two other options: the state sets and enforces bail or the defendants are released without bail. Both options prove problematic.
POWER OF THE STATE
Recently, The Marshall Project ran a story about Kentucky’s bail reform. In 1976, Kentucky eliminated commercial bail, giving the power to the state. They began using a risk-assessment tool that determines whether a person is a flight risk and if there is a previous criminal record. The score of this assessment is then evaluated by a judge and considered when setting a bail amount.
The article offers the account of David Jones, a trucker accused of distributing child pornography. Jones was eventually released and the charges were dropped, as no evidence could be delivered. However, Jones was jailed for well over a year, unable to pay his bail. He lost his job, apartment, and missed his son’s high school graduation as he languished in jail.
The second option, general release for most defendants, finds itself at odds with our constitutional right to bail, as judges have two choices: release or deny bail. One allows potentially dangerous criminals back onto the streets, to commit more crimes or tamper with witnesses, as there is little oversight. While the other denies anyone determined to be a risk bail, and thus hinders the ability to mount a proper defense.
MISSING THE POINT
Both state-controlled and no-bail systems are missing a fundamental aspect: the oversight and experience that a bail bondsman brings. The bail bonds agency provides an essential service to the system and to the defendants. To the system, bail bondsmen offer the same type of risk management, by assessing the defendant, but adds the benefit of providing the resources and manpower needed for oversight and to capture fugitives, when necessary. Furthermore, the bail agencies are another party with vested interest, with more freedom and time to help ensure that court dates are met and defendants are accountable.
The other side of the equation is that bail bonds could help with cases like David Jones, as the bail bond would cost less and could include payment options. As an alternative to the crowded system, where each defendant is a number, the bail bonds agency would be able to work with the individual and find fair, flexible, and accountable ways to help.
November 12, 2015 / Ryan Serey