Eliminating Cash Bail & Surety Bail – a good idea? Think again.

These days there’s a lot of buzz about eliminating cash bail and replacing it with something called “Pre-Trial Release”.

Don’t let the semantics confuse you. ANY release before trial IS pre-trial release.

  • Cash bail
  • Surety bail
  • Unsupervised release (own recognizance)
  • Unsecured bond (a criminal’s word is his/her bond)
  • Ankle monitor

Certain extremely-interested parties want to replace bail bondsmen with either government or private for-profit companies. In other words, they want to replace one type of company (mostly mom+pop operations) with big-money big-government partnerships. These people will get to decide who is released from jail (and who isn’t).

Part of the narrative is against “cash bail” and that is confused with what bail bondsmen do.

Dave gets drunk and angry and takes a swing at his neighbor. He goes to jail and the magistrate sets bail at $10,000 secured. Dave has three viable options:

  1. Post $10,000 cash to the magistrate (refundable if he goes to court) = CASH BAIL
  2. Post property equivalent to the bond amount to the magistrate (requires an attorney to prepare a deed of trust). This is usually done by a family member. = PROPERTY BOND
  3. Hire a bail bondsman to post the $10,000 and pay a small fee (usually 10-15%). Most bondsmen offer financing for their fees. = SURETY BOND

Some want to eliminate cash bail and surety bonds and replace it with what they call “pretrial release”. In other words, Dave would simply be released from jail with a promise to return for court.

THIS IS A TERRIBLE IDEA, and here’s a few of the reasons why:

#1 – Somebody’s got to pay for that. That would be you, dear taxpayer – to the tune of millions and even billions of dollars that you’re currently NOT having to pay (because cash bail works). You’ll have to pay for offices and overhead, employees and administrative support staff, insurance, equipment, and the capture of the MANY people who, lacking incentive to show up, will not bother to come to court. Bondsmen already do this service at no cost to the taxpayer.

#2 – Somebody has to go and arrest people who don’t come to court. That would be either the police (already overworked) or agents hired to go and track people down (bad idea to have employees doing a job like that). Bondsmen already do this work at no cost to the taxpayer.

#3 – For many, being in “pretrial release” is worse than being in jail because of the many restrictions imposed upon them (ankle monitors, house arrest, curfews, not allowed to leave the county). While bondsmen tend to keep up with people during their trial process (we want to be sure they actually go to court), we don’t tend to put a lot of unnecessary restrictions on people.

#4 – Pretrial release tends to swing one of two ways. In some states they loosely let everybody go … including dangerous and violent repeat offenders. In places like New York and Chicago, the crime rate has shot up exponentially and many are afraid to do everyday things like taking the subway to work! In other places, most people stay in jail until trial, even non-violent first-time defendants. Sometimes trials take a year or more. Can you imagine being stuck in jail like that? Neither is good. Both tend to be extremely racially motivated and often backfire, keeping black and brown skinned people in jail. By contrast, the bail bonds system is non-discriminatory by nature and allows for supervision of defendants by family, friends, and the bondsman.

#5 – There’s no real incentive to show up for court. With cash and surety bonds, people have an incentive to show up for court. There is a co-signer who is extremely motivated to help the bondsman find someone who’s trying to skip court. With PTR, there’s really no reason to show up for court. Sure, there’ll be a warrant, but the chances of being found with the increased load on the system will be a LOT less. Studies have found that a large percentage of people simply don’t come. Can you imagine how court can continue operating when 65% or more simply don’t bother to come?

#6 – Schools will LOSE funding. This doesn’t get talked about a lot, but schools get a ton of funding from the cash and surety bail bond system. When someone fails to appear, the bondsman has a certain period of time to find them. If the bondsman can’t find them, the bond must be paid. That money goes to the school in the county the bond was written in. So there’s even more money that you, the taxpayer, will need to pay.

#7 – Special interests will profit. This move is not about “the government keeping everyone safe and doing all things” … there is big, big money at stake and the special interests are not pushing for change out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s greed, pure and simple.

#8 – It’s terrible for the economy. Bail bondsmen are entrepreneurs who risk their own money and fund their own businesses. Bail insurance companies underwrite the process. Because bail bonds is a competitive market, clients can choose the best bondsman for their situation. Eliminating thousands of small/family businesses in favor of government & big enterprise monopoly is NEVER a good idea.

#9 – Simple improvements will help make cash and surety bail a better system. Our constitution already protects people from excessive bail amounts, so let’s structure state laws to match the Constitution! For North Carolina I would focus more on moving cases through court faster and eliminating punitive bail. The system already works, but streamlining and refining will make it better without costing the taxpayers, endangering the public, and causing a huge backlog for police and courts.

#10 – Bail bondsmen care about their clients (at least the good ones do) … we not only get them out of jail and to court, we often help connect them to resources and jobs, encourage them, and help steer them towards a better life. We get them into rehab. We help them become independent. (when’s the last time the government did a good job with any of those things?) At Cape Fear, we tell every client that we’d like to help them to not be our client ever again because they break out of the criminal justice system cycle forever!

These ten are just SOME of the reasons why using a bail bondsman is a good idea for defendants, the public, AND the government! As a society, we MUST protect surety bail bonds.