Monday, December 3, 2012

Bail Bonds and the Media: Objective Journalism or Pretrial Services Advocacy…You Decide

Last weekend a story was written in the San Francisco Weekly that discussed how pretrial detention ruins people’s lives.  The story spun the usual pretrial community anti-bail talking point stating that jails are overcrowded and people are languishing away in jail because they can’t afford a bail bond.   Also in usual fashion, the article puts the victim spotlight not on the actual crime victim but rather the defendant whose life has been ruined now that he is in jail.  This isn't the first story we have seen like this and I am certain it won’t be the last.  However there are a few things that I would like to point out about this particular story that are worth discussing, after all this is a bail bond blog post.

First, instead of going solely after the “evil bail bondsman” as these stories typically do, this story seems to be attacking the judicial system overall including the DA’s office and the judge who presided over this specific case.  This is an interesting and much more aggressive approach for the pretrial community…and a curious one at that.  The commercial bail industry sees itself as a vital component of the criminal justice system;  A component that works hand in hand with the DA’s office and judges.  We see and understand our role as facilitating the process of pretrial release and not as deciding who gets out and who doesn't get out.  If release is determined appropriate by a judge, the bail industry works with the family of the defendant based on that decision.  It is neither our role nor our place to question the judge’s experience and authority.  We find it curious that the pretrial community feels it is theirs.

Second, this article uses the specific case of defendant Anthony Dorton as an example of someone whose life was ruined because he was held pretrial until he was recently found not guilty by a jury.  The first problem with that approach is that the article is making a pretty big claim and basing it on one case.  There have literally been millions of cases over the years in which the pretrial process works exceptionally well, but the author of this article felt the need to use one case to make his point.  Second, if you were to read this article with that information and nothing else, it is easy to begin to feel badly for the defendant.  However, what the article fails to mention is that the defendant they are referring to is not as innocent as they would like you to believe.  In fact, the DA’s office still believes it had a strong case against the defendant and that more investigation is necessary.  So once again, by avoiding all the facts, the article is setting us up to make its predetermined point, regardless of the real facts.  The author essentially tries to create a victim out of the defendant…and that is disrespectful to the real crime victims. Here is a link to the story; “Advanced Pimpin' Expert Costs San Francisco $2K in Hotel Fees.”

Third, the reporter makes the same mistake that many people do when it comes to the “presumption of innocence” doctrine.  The article suggests that one of the reasons that pretrial detention is bad is that is violates a person’s right to the presumption of innocence.  Unfortunately that is a common misrepresentation by the pretrial community.  The presumption of innocence is a concept that is reserved for the courtroom.  It is not a concept that relates to protecting and serving the public and our communities.  If that were not the case, then law enforcement would never be able to make an arrest.  Why? Because they would have to assume that the person is innocent and did not commit the crime.  The reality is that law enforcement bases their actions on another doctrine…one referred to as “probable cause.”  Based on the evidence available to them at the time, they act based on whether there is enough probable cause to make an arrest.  So those individuals who are being detained in jail (which by the way is the purpose of jails in the first place, to detain individuals accused of a crime) are there because of probable cause, and the doctrine of innocent until proven guilty is not yet applicable until they enter the courtroom.

Lastly, to me the most upsetting part of this article is not what is in it, but rather what is not in it.  About three weeks ago, several individuals within the bail industry were asked to participate in a conference call with the author of the article.  Just the fact that someone was actually asking our side of the story was great.  It really gave me a sense of hope and optimism that finally, someone was going to write an honest and objective article about the bail bond industry and the real issues in the criminal justice system.  The group of bail representatives spent about an hour with the reporter.  They explained the bail process, the difference between the presumption of innocence and probable cause, gave statistics on the effectiveness of bail, our opinions on jail overcrowding, and so on.  We told our story the way it needed to be told…with facts, experience and professionalism.   Unfortunately, none of the information we provided was included in the story.

So here we are again…right back where we started this blog, with those in the pretrial community and those in support of their mission, continuing to spin a web of misinformation and pawn it off as fact.  Even when presented with the truth, they seem to find a way to either misrepresent it or disregard it all together.  The good news is that regardless of what they say and write, we still have the truth and facts on our side.  I look forward to your comments.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pretrial Release Agencies: Bail Bond Myths? Propaganda? Or Just Misguided Fantasy?

I just finished reading the latest piece of fictional research being disseminated by the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), and I thought I would share my thoughts on it.  While I do enjoy a good crime novel every once and a while, this specific story fell short in both storyline and substance.  And while I don’t typically like to ruin a good story or give away the end, I am not really worried about that here because to be honest, there is nothing new to this latest story that hasn’t been said previously. 

PJI once again has decided to put time, effort, and more likely than not, your tax-dollars into disseminating anti-bail propaganda to try and discredit the commercial bail bond industry.  For those of you who don’t know who PJI is, they are the leading advocate for the elimination of all commercial bail in every instance of release pending trial.  So it is no mystery why they continuously go after and try and undermine the commercial bail industry and its proven effectiveness.   In this latest attempt, they have gone after several research studies.  Their focus is on discrediting and pointing out “so-called” limitations in not one, not two, but SIX different research studies that all prove that financially secured release is more effective than other forms of release (specifically unsecured release).   And please know that these research studies weren’t conducted in the back office of a bail bond agents retail operation, as it almost feels like the PJI community would like you to believe.  But rather the studies that PJI is trying to discredit are coming from some of the nation’s leading research and criminal justice experts and Universities, including The University of Arizona, The US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and The University of Chicago to name a few.

What is eerily missing from this story is a single study that shows that unsecured release is the most effective form of pretrial release.  Why is that?  Because one doesn’t exist.  Why is that? Because anyone who looks at comparing these forms of release (like the six studies referenced in the study PJI is disseminating) all come to the same conclusion…that financially secured bail outperforms unsecured bail in appearance rates and recidivism rates every time.  Remember, we aren’t talking about a single study; we are talking about 6 studies. 

As one of its conclusions, PJI suggests that more research be conducted to determine the best way to manage pretrial populations.  But to be honest, do we really need more research to show us that financially secured release is the most effective form of release only to have PJI than discredit the research because it didn’t help push their anti-commercial bail agenda.  I don’t think so. 

What I would like to see is PJI look in the mirror at themselves.  They need to do a study on their performance and share those results with the entire criminal justice system (which by the way, they never seem to want to do).  They need to answer a few questions… questions like, how effective are they at ensuring someone released through one of their pretrial service agencies is showing up for court?  How effective are they at ensuring that someone released through one of their programs is not out committing additional crimes?  And most importantly, how effective are they at going out and getting someone when they don’t show up for court?  Oh wait, I forgot, they don’t go out and get them. That is not their job.  Instead it falls on an overworked and undermanned law enforcement community to clean up Pretrial’s failures. 

When and if PJI decides to look at these issues, it would help if they hold themselves to the same criteria that the commercial bail bond industry does when calculating appearance rates.  For example, when a defendant has 10 scheduled court appearances and attends 9 of them, missing the last one, the bail industry considers that a Failure to Appear (FTA) rate of 100%.  A pretrial service agency looks at that same scenario and calculates their FTA rate as only 10%, because the defendant only missed 1 of 10 appearances.  Not quite the apples to apples comparsion they would like you to believe it is?  And the worst part of this…for PJI, not for the bail industry…is that even when pretrial services calculates their FTAs in this way, the commercial bail industry still outperforms them.   Maybe that is why they don’t want anyone to see or at least now believe the research.

While the pretrial community can continue to sling mud and arrows and the commercial bail bond industry and discredit the research studies of leading experts and institutions around the country, commercial bail will continue to do what we do.  We will continue to live up to the promises we make to the families of those defendants we bail out.  We will continue to keep the promises to the courts that we will return those defendants.  We will continue to keep the promises to the communities in which live, work, protect and support.  Why?  Because it is what we do and what we have always done.  Because bail does work.   We know it works.  Research shows it works.  97% of Sheriffs say it works.  90% of Judges say it works.  And at the end of the day, isn’t that all that should matter.  I look forward to hearing your comments.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pretrial Fail – Truth and Deception

If you are a bail bond agent or someone that works in the bail bond industry then you have probably seen the new marketing materials being distributed by a group calling themselves the Justice Policy Institute or JPI…of course not to be confused with PJI (the Pretrial Justice Institute).  While their philosophies seem to be the same, they are different organizations.  The marketing piece that I am referring to is entitled, “Bail Fail: Why the US Should End the Practice of Using Money for Bail.”  As you can probably tell by the title, it is a piece that concerns me both as an individual in the commercial bail bond industry, but even more as a member of my local community.  Why?  Because we all know that releasing someone from jail pretrial on an unsecured promise to return to court is the most ineffective way to ensure the appearance of that defendant in court.  To release them without a financial guarantee of some kind is in essence letting them out for FREE with NO ACCOUNTABILITY to the system.  No accountability to show up for court.  No accountability to pay for their crime.  And ultimately no accountability the victim.

As I read the document and maneuvered through the fact-less claims and statistics, it started to click in my head what the problem was.  The argument being made by JPI is completely faulty.  Bear with me while I explain why.  First, their main premise is that all forms of money bail are bad and ineffective.  But what they really mean is that “commercial bail” or secured release is bad.  Why, because, if all forms of money bail are bad, than they would be criticizing themselves.  What they fail to recognize is that pretrial release programs are “money bail.”  The difference is the money doesn’t come from defendant’s families, but rather from taxpayers.  Who pays for the salaries of the people who work in the pretrial office? Taxpayers do.  Who pays for the office space and the office supplies?  Who pays for the clipboards and pencils that they conduct their evidenced based assessments with?  Taxpayers do.  In fact, everything they do costs taxpayers money.  So to say that they shouldn’t be included in the “money bail” category is extremely myopic and untrue.  

That being said, the real discussion that needs to happen in the criminal justice community is not around the money, because at the end of the day the money is part of all forms of release.  The discussion and comparison needs to be around results and effectiveness.  The real conversation needs to be around “secured release” versus “unsecured release” and which method is more effective in achieving its purpose (getting a defendant to court) and which is better at maintaining the highest levels of public safety. And I will have that debate all day long.   And to be honest, that discussion is not much of a debate, because secured release outperforms unsecured release in every dimension possible…especially in the key dimension of getting people to court, where secured release outperforms unsecured release almost 2 to 1.

The pretrial community does not want to have that discussion. Why?  Because they can’t win.  They can’t outperform financially secured release and they don’t have the record to compete head to head with us.  So instead, they distract and deflect the truth and force the conversation on to untrue things like how evil and greedy bail bondsmen are and play into that negative image of the bail industry (sound familiar?).

So let JPI produce its fancy marketing pieces and denounce “money bail” as evil and unnecessary.  Because, at the end of the day, I know that their argument is not only weak, but devoid of any reliable statistics that matter.   Commercial bail is a profession that exists because it is needed.  It is not around because bail agents are good at lobbying state and local governments. Commercial bail is a profession that exists because it works...and it has to work if you think about it.  On average, bail agents take only 10% of the bail amount as premium.  If the defendant doesn’t appear in court and the bail agent doesn’t get them back, the bail agent is responsible for 100% of the bond.  So even if the bail agent gets 9 out of 10 defendants back (which is much better than pretrial programs get), he would be breaking even and more likely than not losing money because of the cost of doing business.  The very nature of the math, forces the bail profession to be successful and to ensure that defendants appear…because if we don’t, we go out of business pretty fast.
Let me end with this.  AIA is comprised of three companies, Allegheny Casualty Company, which has been around for almost 80 years, International Fidelity Insurance Company which has been around for over 107 years, and Associated Bond, who has been around for 80 years.  We underwrite more bail than any other surety in the country and all three of our companies couldn’t be stronger and more successful.  If anything these three companies are a testament of the effectiveness of bail as a profession and a safe and reliable form of release.  So call it money bail or anything you want, but in the real world the proof is in the pudding and financially secured release through a commercial bail bond does work and it does so better than every other method around….oh yeah and it doesn’t cost taxpayers a thing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Get to Know Your Community and Your Community Will Know You

Last week, I had dinner with a small group of bail bond agents and a dynamic up and coming prosecutor.  This prosecutor is a highly decorated lawyer who not only serves the people of Los Angeles each and every day, but does so with the mission to keep our streets and families protected and safe.  We spent the greater part of three hours talking about specific issues and concerns that our industry has with the state of the criminal justice system in Los Angeles.  Additionally, we also talked about larger state issues related to initiatives like AB109, the prison realignment program that is failing so miserably.  The prosecutor not only listened to the group’s remarks and concerns, but offered thoughtful insights and ideas on how to best work together and resolve them.

By the end of the evening, we had earned his respect and confidence as an important and knowledgeable resource that he could utilize in his daily work.  That is when it really hit me.  Because we had reached out to this person and invited him to “our table,” he now not only understood who we were as an industry, but more importantly, he now understood the bigger role that bail could play in California’s criminal justice system.  In other words, he was now more willing to invite us to “the county’s table” when he needed real knowledge and insights.

The purpose of this blog is to communicate out the most important lesson that I learned at this dinner.  And that is the act of reaching out and getting involved.  For far too long, the bail bond industry has been too silent or too fragmented to have its voice heard when it comes to legislation or public opinion.  Call it apathy on our industry’s part or intimidation and reluctance on the part of our local community leaders to reach out to the bail industry, but either way the time is right to put the past behind us and move forward together. 

When the criminal justice system works with the bail industry, great things can happen.  From better management of growing jail populations to more successful appearance rates and the serving of justice to effective use of technology and systems to monitor and track defendants pretrial, by working together, solutions can be developed and results not only achieved but exceeded. 

I encourage each and every bail agent that reads this blog to reach out to their local opinion leaders.  Introduce yourself. Explain your business to them.  Educate them.  Open your door and they will open theirs.  Bail is a local business.  Most bail bond agents work in communities that their parents worked in…that they grew up in and continue to live in to this day.  They work in the same communities in which they are raising a family.  It is time to step up and get involved and get to know your community and its leaders better…and in return, your community and its leaders will not only get to know you just a little bit better, but more importantly they will understand you and respect you.  And that is the first and most important step needed for change.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

GPS: Criminal Justice Hero or Criminal Justice Zero

Click here to read the new blog post from Brian Nairin.

GPS, or Global Positioning System devices, have become one of the fastest growing consumer products in recent history.  Whether they are imbedded in your smart phone to let people know where you are or whether they sit on the dashboard of your car to prevent you from getting lost, GPS devices are becoming more entrenched into our everyday lives.  The question now becomes:  where does GPS make sense and where doesn’t it?  For example, the criminal justice system has embraced GPS as the Second Coming and is now moving towards implementing it in more ways each and every day.  As a citizen of the US and an active member of my local community, I have to ask: how can GPS by itself be the cure-all solution for the problems that ail our criminal justice system?

I have been connected to the criminal justice system for most of my adult life.  I have seen new ideas and technologies come and go like the seasons changing throughout the year.  While some stick and become commonplace, others come and go faster than you can say “change.”  But some go on and on trying to re-invent themselves and reposition themselves until they are able to stick a little bit stronger with the public.  GPS is one of those concepts.  While on the surface, the idea of having the ability to track an individual is great. However, the reality of doing so in an effective way is where the challenge lies for GPS being, as it claims it is the solution for things like jail overcrowding.  Here are just some of the out-points of this cure-all technology:

  • GPS tracks the person, but no one tracks the GPS.
    While GPS is capable of tracking the location of a person down to their placement on a sidewalk, the big question really is less about that and more about who is monitoring the GPS device so that a crime can be prevented.  There have been countless reports of people who have gone outside of house arrest or who have violated an exclusion zone (an area they must avoid as part of their release agreement) and committed a crime, but no one knows that the violation occurred (or much less that it is about to occur) because no one is monitoring the system.

  • GPS tells you where the defendant was when they cut off the device.
    Many opponents of GPS monitoring believe that the above statement is a big reason why GPS fails.  Defendants sometimes cut off the device and then disappear….only to be caught again after committing another crime and creating another crime victim.  All the device tells a monitor is where the defendant was when he cut the bracelet off. 

  • GPS does not prevent crime, but rather just tracks it.
    Since you can only see the location of the person, all GPS really does is tell you where they are and not what they are doing.

These are but three shortcomings of GPS and also three big questions that need to be answered before we can truly see it as an effective means of tracking and monitoring defendants. 
I believe that there is a solution to increasing the effectiveness of a GPS device. It is a solution that has proven itself time and time again to be the most effective element in the criminal justice system and the only element that actually provides a guarantee of performance.  That solution is to couple the new technology (GPS) with the historically proven effectiveness of the commercial bail industry.  What makes the commercial bail industry such an effective solution for the criminal justice system is that it creates accountability.  Accountability with the defendant. Accountability with the family, friends and potentially the colleagues of the defendant.  And most importantly, accountability with an AM BEST rated insurance company and its independent insurance agent (the bail agent) who provides the product to the consumer.  When you couple these things with the ability to track a person through a GPS device, you get a superior result within the pretrial release process.  If the defendant wearing the device fails to perform, there is an insurance company that must pay the bail amount to the county. But when you couple GPS with another government run, taxpayer funded program that places un-invested, 9 to 5 employees in charge of tracking and monitoring defendants you get an inferior program that will not only leave defendants unaccountable but also leave the public less safe.
Once again, I encourage key decision makers to bring the commercial bail industry to the table when discussing ways to improve the system.  It brings a level of experience, knowledge and success that can be leveraged in ways to improve the effectiveness of pretrial release and improve the safety of our communities.  All local officials must be willing to do is ask. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

"FREE BAIL" Denied: Hats off to San Mateo County

I would like to dedicate this blog post to the hard working men and women in the San Mateo Criminal Justice System.  On behalf of the AIA family of insurance companies, the oldest and largest surety bail underwriters in California and the country, I would like to extend a “job well done” to the decision makers who did not drink the Pretrial Justice Institute’s jug of Kool-Aid.   If you didn’t read the recent OP-ED piece in the Daily Journal out of San Mateo County this week, then you missed a misguided and misinformed OP-ED article by consultant and apparent friend of the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), Bob Cushman.  For those of you who don’t know who PJI is, they are the left wing radical group that has made it their mission to install a taxpayer funded “FREE BAIL” program in every county throughout the country.  The ultimate goal: to eliminate thousands of small, family run bail bond businesses and the commercial bail industry altogether…but I digress.

Based on the article, Bob is pretty upset that county officials didn’t move forward with PJI’s taxpayer funded criminal welfare system recommendations.  According to Mr. Cushman, the county is “resisting the adoption of modern, evidenced based practices to reduce the 76% of people in our jails pending trial.”  Let’s quickly break down that last statement.  First, “resisting” is a pretty strong word coming from a supposed independent objective consultant.  Maybe they aren’t “resisting” but rather making a smart informed decision based on what’s best for the county.  In fact, their “resistance” is based solely on a study that PJI did for the very purpose of installing their program into San Mateo County.  So to call an objective decision “resistance” is certainly stretching it a bit.  Then again, that is pretty much a common practice of the folks at PJI…it is their way or the highway. 

Next, let’s look at the words “modern, evidenced based practices.”  One would think that “evidence based practices” require actual evidence.  Has anyone ever produced evidence of these so called modern techniques they use to let people out of jail for FREE with no accountability?  I know I haven’t seen any evidence.  I also know that we have asked PJI for their statistics that show the results of the program, but continue to get excuses and red tape.  The fact is: there already are statistics.  The U.S. Department of Justice has studied pretrial release for many years and has statistics that show how well…or how poorly these “modern, evidenced based” pretrial release programs perform. Just an FYI: secured release, i.e. commercial bail, outperforms these taxpayer funded “FREE BAIL” programs in terms of appearance rates by almost 2 to 1.  But since those statistics weren’t good for their side, PJI used their influence to have the DOJ rescind over 20 years of research. 

So it has become very clear and obvious that research isn’t PJI’s expertise.  Just look at last week’s recent Star Telegram article out of Tarrant County Texas that uncovered how a PJI promoted program was calculating their failure to appear rates (FTA).  While the commercial bail industry calculates its FTA rates, we use a “defendant based” approach…that is, when a defendant misses any of their court dates, it is considered a 100% FTA.  Pretrial Services, on the other hand, calculates their FTAs using a more liberal event-based approach…that is, when a defendant misses his trial date, but did manage to go the previous 3 times he was called, they only count it as a 25% FTA.  The fault here is the bigger the number you divide by, the smaller the result.  So are these really “evidenced-based” practices or “fantasy-based” practices.  We think they are the latter.

Lastly, Mr. Cushman mentions the statistic “76% of the people in jail are awaiting trial.”  We think that is a great number…a great number that needs to be studied.  PJI is selling their red herring that the jails are crowded because people can’t afford a bail bond.  This statement is anything but a fact.  I just recently blogged on this topic and you can read that blog by clicking here.  The high level summary is that bail bonds are not unaffordable.  Yes, some bails, especially in California are set too high (and the bail industry advocates a review of the schedules), but with flexible financing and credit options (just like any other industry offers), any consumer can get a bail bond.  In this tough economy we have done what any other business does: we have developed a pricing model to accommodate the marketplace.  So people aren’t languishing in jail because of the commercial bail industry.  Our industry fully supports a study of jail populations to determine who really is in there.  We are confident that the results will show that commercial bail is not the problem…but rather in our opinion, may very well be the solution (see my other recent blog post).

We think that PJI needs to take its cross hairs off the commercial bail industry and focus more on perfecting the programs and processes that pretrial programs were designed to operate.  The bail industry has no objections to the existence of Pretrial Service Agencies.  As an industry, we believe that they play an essential role in helping special needs defendants get the help they need.  However, as citizens and members of our own local communities, we do have an objection to those programs releasing individuals out of jail on simply a promise to return, with little to no supervision or follow-up, and no accountability when they don’t show up.  As community members, we object to our public safety being negatively impacted with our own tax dollars.

So I am sorry that Mr. Cushman is unhappy that PJI’s research report, with its smoke and mirrors, didn’t convince San Mateo’s leadership to spend millions of dollars funding another ineffective government program.  At the same time I am proud of San Mateo for being smart about how it spends taxpayer dollars.  I am proud of San Mateo for supporting small, family owned, private businesses.  And I am proud of San Mateo for looking out for the public safety of its citizens.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Jail Realignment: Action Will Cause Reaction

Ignoring the problem or giving it to someone else doesn’t mean it has gone away….that is the lesson that Governor Brown needs to learn when it comes to jail populations and the criminal justice system in California.  Recently it was reported that crime in Sacramento is up 7% since January of this year.  What is so compelling about this stat is that it comes at the tail end of 5 straight years of declines in crime.  So what is the cause of this increase?  According to a poll being conducted on the Sacramento Bee’s website, 81% of respondents say the cause is a combination of cuts in law enforcement, less supervision of people on parole, release of more parolees into the community and cuts in the juvenile court system.  Regardless of which single reason or combinations of reasons are thought to be the cause, it is hard to deny the negative impact that the Governor’s “Jail Realignment” has had on local communities.  Sacramento is just one of many counties and cities that have reported significant increases in local crime numbers.  Cities like Antioch, San Jose and Vallejo are all reporting increases in both non-violent and violent crimes.  Recently the San Mateo County Times reported that ALL Bay Area cities have seen double digit increases in crime (specifically home robberies) in 2012 (Palo Alto leads the way with a 63% increase). 

What the Governor hasn’t figured out is that cutting costs, slashing budgets and releasing inmates is not the solution to jail overcrowding.  It is, however, the cause of increased crime and lack of respect for law enforcement.  If a criminal knows they won’t be punished, then what is the incentive for them to stop?  Whether the crime is classified as violent or non-violent, criminals will care less and less about the law and more and more about who their next crime victim is.  So what is the answer?  Is it bigger government in Sacramento? Is it bigger government in your local communities?  Or shall we look to the private sector to do what they do best, which is come up with efficient, cost effective solutions that produce results?  As the Chief Executive Officer of the nation’s largest family of bail bond insurance companies, I think there is a lot that both state and local governments can learn from the bail industry if they were only to ask.  But since they haven’t asked and to date have been reluctant to include us in the conversations, here are some things that I think the Governor and local community leaders should think about.  And the first thing on the list is an easy one.

  • Tap into the knowledge and experience of the commercial bail industry - Bail bond agents have been a vital part of California’s criminal justice system for over 60 years.  Bail agents understand how to supervise and ensure appearance of those released pretrial. Leverage this knowledge and transfer it to managing populations post-conviction.

  • Better understand the pretrial populations that make up jails to determine the best solution – without knowing who is in jail and why they are there you can’t solve the problem.  Just releasing any and every one that falls into a “non, non, non” category, is not an effective way to manage populations. As the evidence is showing, even non-violent offenders create crime victims, and releasing them is putting public safety at significant risk.

  • Assess bail amounts and bond schedules - If jails are crowded because bail amounts are too high, then look at lowering bail schedules…once again, tap into knowledge and experience of the bail industry.

These are just a few simple things state and local governments could do to not only come up with a better long term solution to these challenges, but also a short term one that creates both accountability amongst those accused of committing crimes and a level of public safety that we are all confident in.  What do you think?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pretrial Services Fails Again: Time to Tell the Truth

Click on the following link to read Brian's new blog post on the failure of jail re-alignment.

If you have picked up a paper recently you probably have seen story after story about crowded jails.  Too many crimes being committed, but not enough jail cells to house those that break the law.  So, you are probably wondering why the jails are crowded.  Well the folks at the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), an organization dedicated to the elimination of commercial bail and other financial means of release, would like you to believe that the jails are crowded because people can’t afford a bail bond.  In fact, according to their own research (which by the way, no one except them has seen), they state that anywhere from 60% to as high as 80% of the pretrial populations sitting in jail are stuck there because they can’t afford a bail bond.

The first question I have is where is the research?  Show us the breakdowns of these populations and prove that people truly are “languishing” away in prison because of the bail bondsmen, who by the way do not set bail -- that's the judge's job.  The problem is that there isn’t any research…at least none actually done by PJI…and to be honest, none that supports them as an effective source of pretrial release.  If PJI only took the time to actually research the make-up of the jail populations as opposed to touring the country pitching national associations to sign resolutions of questionable merit and veracity supporting their FREE criminal welfare programs, they would see that the jail populations are comprised of many different types of individuals…most of whom can’t be released on bail…not because they can’t afford it, but rather because they don’t qualify.  For example, some sitting in the county jail right now are the following types of individuals:

-  Those being held on immigration violations – do not qualify for bail
Those waiting to be transferred to a state prison – do not qualify for bail
-  Those waiting to be transferred to another jail in another state or county – do not qualify for bail
-  Those being held on probation violations or “blue warrants” – do not qualify for bail
-  Those actually serving out their sentence in a county jail – do not qualify for bail
-  Those that are deemed too dangerous for the community or are a flight risk – do not qualify for bail
-  Those whose bail was set so inordinately high that they were never intended to be released anyway
-  For those that do have a bail bond set, affording one is not a problem.  With flexible financing and payment
   options, bail bonds can be purchased quite readily.

So why are jails overcrowded if it is not that people can’t afford a bail bond?  We think that is a good question and one that should be answered through research as opposed to just pointing at the usual easy target, the bail bondsman.  In fact, a recent article in the Charleston Daily Mail, uncovered that probation and parole violations accounted for 38% of the jail population in a West Virginia jail (see the article by clicking the link: Parole violations add to jail woes).  While this is only one glimpse into jail populations in West Virginia, it just goes to show that there are many reasons for jail overcrowding and not just the one of “not being able to afford a bail bond.”  In fact, the Texas Public Policy Foundation recently commented on the topic of jail overcrowding by stating the following:

“The most important preliminary step available to counties seeking to reduce unnecessary pretrial incarceration is to review their jail population data to determine the number of defendants who are locked up solely because they could not afford a commercial bail bond.”

For years the anti-commercial bail PJI has targeted bail agents for extinction. We are a solution, not the problem with the criminal justice system.  In fact, the bail industry is the only entity that “guarantees” performance in the criminal justice system…and if we don’t perform we pay the court.  How does PJI respond when pretrial service agencies fail to perform, which they so frequently do?    Now that is a question that needs an answer.  What do you think?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Is the Sky Really Falling? Pretrial’s Urban Myth

For years, the
pretrial services community has run through the streets screaming “the sky is falling!”  While this is more of a figurative comment, the real message they have been screaming to anyone that will listen is that jails are overcrowded.  What most people need to realize is that they are playing a game of purposefully instilling fear and panic into consumers, legislators, community leaders and key influencers.  Can you hear them now, “Jails are overcrowded!  Jails are overcrowded!”  Oh yeah, and by the way, it is the commercial bail industry’s fault.  Insert more fear and panic here. 

So what is the truth?  Is the sky really falling?  Are jails really overcrowded?  Are bail agents really evil money grubbing gatekeepers that are road blocking and bankrupting the system because they just want to make more and more money?  Are people really languishing away in jail because they can’t afford a bail bond?  The answer in my opinion is an emphatic and absolute NO!  Let’s set the record straight with some facts.  You know, those things that the pretrial services community seems to ignore and leave out of their propaganda….I mean research studies.

Are jails overcrowded?  This is an important question and one that was recently answered by the US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics in an April 2012 report.  The report looked at jail populations in county and city jails from June 2010 to June 2011.  And guess what?  Jail populations have actually declined.  In fact, the 2011 jail incarceration rate is the lowest rate since 2002.  One more thing…this is actually the third year in a row (since 2008) that jail populations have declined.   So to answer the first question on a national scale…it looks like the sky will stay up for a few more days.

Assuming that this study never existed…and trust me, the pretrial folks will try and make it seem that way…let’s take a look at the second question, is commercial bail responsible for the overcrowding?  In order to answer this question, you need to look at the role that bail plays in the system.  When bail is set by a judge, bail agents quickly and efficiently assess the risk of each potential defendant that comes to them.  If they decide to take on the risk, they indemnify it through a contract that financially binds the defendant, the family or indemnitor, the bail agent and the court and holds the defendant accountable for appearing in court.  The individual is then released to prepare for their defense and support their family, all the while checking in with the bail agent to ensure they appear for all scheduled court dates.  So far it sounds to me like bail actually lowers populations and does so in a responsible and effective way.

But can people afford a bail bond?  Absolutely.  The bail industry has had to evolve and catch up to other types of professional service industries when it comes to operating in a more credit focused economy.  The entire industry as a whole has become more adept at accepting credit cards, financing transactions, and working closely with families to underwrite risk and ensure release.  So to say that the majority of people can’t afford bail is another pretrial community myth.  It is easier now to secure a bail bond than it has ever been before.

Lastly, I want to address an issue that people will probably point out once they read this blog, and that is California.  While jail overcrowding has dropped on a national scale, it is has been a hot political topic recently in California.  Once again, the battle cry of the pretrial folks has been that 70-80% of the jail populations are comprised of “pretrial” defendants who are there for one and only one reason…because they can’t afford a bail bond.  While California does have the highest bail schedules in the country and it would serve the community well to reassess and lower those schedules, the concept of overcrowding being the fault of people not affording bail is just flat out wrong.  At no point do the powers that be ever explain the make-up of those pretrial populations.  If they were to do that, than one could easily see that commercial bail is not the cause.  Pretrial jail populations are comprised of many different types of people.  You have individuals who are there awaiting transfer to another county jail.  You have individuals who are awaiting transfer to state prison.  You have individuals who are there serving out a sentence.  You have people who have been denied bail because they are a threat to the community. You have individuals who are there on probation violations…by the way, all the types of people I have mentioned so far are not eligible for pretrial release.  Finally, also amongst all those people, you do have the group that is eligible for bail.  As you can see, that group is a small sliver of the pretrial population.

So is the sky falling?  Is commercial bail the cause of jail overcrowding?  Is jail overcrowding truly a national issue?  Or are we being spun a web of propaganda, myths and untruths?  You be the judge.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Bail Bonds: Too Much Good To Be This Bad

As many of you know, I have been in the bail bond business for most of my life.  In that time, I have been fortunate enough to meet, get to know and become friends with hundreds of bail bondsmen.  From Florida to Pennsylvania to Washington State to my home state of California, I have met bail agents that not only take their profession seriously, but more importantly see their role as a “community member” as vital and necessary.  Over the years, I have seen bail agents start non-profit organizations, sponsor youth sports programs, give assistance to victims, hold public office in their communities, and so much more.  It is these types of things that not only humanizes the bail industry in a way that Hollywood and the media have not yet figured out, but also makes me and my entire family proud to be associated with such good and honorable people.

While I would like to say that all my memories are fond, I have to be honest and say that unfortunately that is not the case.  It is hard to deny that there is “good” in the bail bond business, but it is also hard to deny that there is “bad” as well.  Almost weekly, all one must do is go to Google and type in the word “Bail Bondsman” and you will see 1, 2, maybe 3 stories about bail agents doing things that you can’t believe (now don’t get me wrong…you can also type in “professional athlete”, “teacher” or “priest” and the word “scandal” and you will get even more results, but I am in the bail bond industry and that is the public image that I am most concerned with…I digress).  Anyway, things like agents caught in bribery schemes, agents busted for solicitation in the jails, or other types of unscrupulous behavior always seem to surface in the news.  Just this past week in California there were two negative stories about bail agents accused of doing illegal, unethical and just flat out stupid things.  It is really unfortunate that this small minority of bail agents that are trying to cut corners and succeed no matter what the cost affect the 99% of those agents that work hard every day to run their business in an honest and ethical manner. 

When are we going to wake up as an industry and realize that the actions of one bail bond agent affects the perception of all bail bond agents?  When are we going to realize that focusing on the good we do in our communities and the vital role we play in the criminal justice system, is a much better story to have the media focus on rather than the bad?  As a bail agent, what are you most proud of…the people and families you help when you get a loved one out of jail, or do you like chasing down a defendant that lied to you and is now on the run?  If you are like most agents I know, the enjoyment comes from the good…not the bad.  As an industry, we need to stop glorifying the chase and the hunting and focus more on the community strength and public safety we provide through our profession.  Until we whole heartedly believe we are as good as we are and start acting that way, we will remain easy targets for the media and our enemies.

I apologize for the dramatics, but this is a subject that is very personal and important to me.  That being said, I would like to put a challenge out to every bail agent and surety in the country to think about what they can do to increase the “good” and decrease the “bad.”  Whether we realize it or not, we are all in this together.  The question is can we all figure it out before it is too late?  Can we figure it out before the stupidity of some defines the professionalism of others?  Can we figure it out before we let the bad define the real good we are capable of?  I hope so…and to be honest, I know we can.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.