Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pretrial Services: My Old Kentucky Home is Actually a Crowded Jail Cell

In the United States there are four states that legally do not allow commercial bail.  These states are Oregon, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Illinois.  If you were to listen to those in the pretrial release community, they would have you believe that these four states are perfect utopias of criminal justice.  Why are these states so much better off than the rest of the country? Once again, according to the pretrial community, it is because there is no commercial bail.  If we decide to accept that argument, we can only assume that these four states must have the lowest fugitive rates in the country.  These four states must have jails that are practically empty, because no one is languishing away in them unable to afford a bail bond.  Well, one thing I have learned in my long experience in the bail bond industry is that if it looks too good to be true, then the pretrial community must be behind it. 

For as long as I can remember, the argument against the commercial bail industry has been that commercial bail is the cause of jail overcrowding and costs the counties and taxpayers money.  According to these commercial bail opponents, people in jail who are only “accused” of a crime (forgetting the concept of probable cause of course) are languishing away in jail because they can’t afford a bail bond.  Well if this is so, then I would like the pretrial community to explain why the state of Kentucky, which by the way, they claim as a poster child to how pretrial works best, just received a grant (more taxpayer dollars) to help with the problem of…yes, I am going to say it…JAIL OVERCROWDING (see article here).  Wait a second.  Kentucky can’t possibly have a jail overcrowding problem because they don’t have a commercial bail system.  It really makes you wonder doesn’t it? It seems to me whatever theory that the pretrial community has been building its house of cards on is about to crumble. 

What I would like to see is a real pretrial release study in Kentucky.  Instead of spending more tax dollars to determine what we already know, which is, that the jails are overcrowded because pretrial release does not work as the primary form of release, let’s try bringing the commercial bail industry in and see what happens.  Since we know that the pretrial community would never allow this to happen, let me tell you what would unfold given that scenario.  With commercial bail, people who are arrested would be able to be released with a financially secured commercial bail bond.  Since the defendant is only putting up 10% of the bail amount, it is much more affordable than the full amount of the bond provided by the full cash option.  Also, bail agents in many cases may provide financing terms, making bail affordable to pretty much everyone.  Once people are released from jail, they will be required to meet a set of criteria established by the court, the bondsman and the family.  These criteria are designed to ensure the defendant’s appearance, but also have a halo effect on their behavior.  This halo effect is created by financially tying a third party (family) to the release contract (a unique component of commercial surety bail).   In doing so you get an extra level of oversight on the defendant that other forms of release do not have.  This extra level of oversight, coupled with the knowledge of the defendant that a bail bond agent will come get you if you don’t show up for court, is what makes commercial bail so effective.

The ultimate result of this research would be that commercial bail not only does a better job at getting people to court (and this has been proven time and time again) but also, that commercial bail does a better job in working with the criminal justice system to manage jail populations.  Oh yeah, and by the way, commercial bail does not cost the county a single dime.  It actually generates positive revenue for the county or state through premium taxes paid by the insurance companies, court fees, forfeiture payments, etc.  At the same time, commercial bail saves the county money by ensuring defendants appear in court.  It was just shown in a recent independent research study on pretrial release completed by the University of Texas at Dallas that commercial bail is not only the most effective form of pretrial release (with pretrial service agencies being the worst) but also the most cost effective as it saved the county over $11 million in costs associated with people not appearing for court.

So let’s summarize…commercial bail helps counties better manage and cycle jail populations.  Commercial bail generates positive revenue for states and counties while saving potentially millions of taxpayer dollars. Commercial bail outperforms all other forms of pretrial release in getting defendants to show up for court. Commercial bail lowers recidivism rates by financially binding a third party to the bail contract creating an added level of oversight by a vested third party.  Maybe these reasons are why the state of Oregon’s Legislature is currently considering the re-introduction of commercial bail back into the system.  Maybe these are the reasons why the City of Philadelphia has turned to commercial bail to help clean up their criminal justice system.  Maybe these are the reasons why Wisconsin introduced a bill last legislative session that looked at re-introducing commercial bail back in to the state.  If you ask me, the answer is pretty obvious.  Commercial bail works.  Kentucky should stop wasting money on trying to find ways to justify the existence of its overfunded underperforming pretrial programs, but rather try to find ways, whatever they might be (including commercial bail) to solve the issues within their crowded jails and inefficient criminal justice system.

I look forward to your comments.


  1. This is a really good article about the merits of commercial bail. I read an article recently about Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in New York. He essentially wants to get rid of commercial bail bonds in that state. While this doesn't affect me directly doing bail bonds in Santa Barbara, CA, it may hold repercussions for the entire industry.

    Bail Bonds Santa Barbara

  2. Great article Brian! Lets suppose Pretrial is equal to and does just as good of a job as Private Surety bail. Why would we use one that costs tax payers so much vs. one that doesn't cost tax payer and only costs the person that is accused? Why should society foot the bill for someone that commits a crime? Allowing private industry to foot the bill themselves is the right answer.
    Sean Cook