Monday, November 18, 2013

A New Game in Town: Bailing Out Chicago with Commercial Bail

Bailing Out Chicago with Commercial Bail
This past weekend there was an interesting story out of Cook County, Illinois.  The story was about the overcrowding of Cook County’s jails.  The most intriguing part of this story, at least to me, is that there is no commercial bail bond industry to point the finger at.  Why…because in Illinois, there are no commercial bail bond agents.  As shocking as that might sound to those in the public sector pretrial release industry, the commercial bail industry is not a cause of jail overcrowding.  In fact, it is rather a very good solution…and one that 46 other states in the country use to not only manage their pretrial jail populations, but more importantly ensure that defendants show up for court (which by the way, is the intended purpose of pretrial release in the first place).  That being the case, then why doesn’t Illinois just turn to the bail industry to help them?  That is a very good question.

Currently in Illinois, defendants are able to get out of jail pretrial by two methods.  First, they can be released on their own recognizance.  That is when a defendant is let out of jail with their promise to appear (in other words, with no financial security).  Second, the defendant can put up 10% of the bond amount with the court coupled with their promise that they will return for trial.  If they don’t appear at all court cases, they must pay full amount of the bond.  While in theory the second option sounds like it would be effective (especially since it is very similar to the private sector commercial bail model), but the reality is that it is not effective at all.  What causes this 10% model to fail is that defendants know that if they don’t show up, no one will come and get them.  They know that they system is so overwhelmed and that there aren’t enough resources to go after them.  What this leads to is a criminal culture with no accountability. 

Enter the commercial bail bond industry.  If Cook County were to allow commercial bail bond agents to be a third option for defendants and their families, here is what would happen.  More defendants could secure their release, because bail agents provide payment plans and flexibility to defendants making bail more attainable.  Next, appearance rates would improve substantially because more defendants would show up for court, because a private sector bail agent would be financially responsible for their appearance (or they would have to pay the full amount of the bond).  Also, by using commercial bail, Cook County could not only save money, but generate money from the bail industry.  By getting defendants to court, the commercial bail bond industry would save the county an enormous amount of money in wasted resources and processes (when a defendant doesn’t show up for trial, the courts absorb the lost cost in time and resources spent to have that trial…Dallas County saved over $11 million in this exact way by using commercial bail).  Additionally, the commercial bail industry would pay premium taxes to the state as well as pay bond forfeitures (which can go to the state and/or county)…all which are additional revenue for an already cash strapped system.  Lastly, the commercial bail industry ensures the rights of victims and gives them the best chance at justice by ensuring the defendant appears at court.  If the defendant does not appear then the victim is re-victimized and gets no chance at justice.

Instead of looking for ways to spend more tax payer dollars, shouldn’t Cook County look for ways to make the system more efficient and more effective.  Maybe it’s time to look at allowing private sector commercial bail back into the state and improving what is an obviously ineffective approach to criminal justice.  Maybe it’s time that Illinois look at improving its criminal justice system and the guaranteeing of the rights of defendants, victims and the public.  If you have the time, please take a few moments and visit the following site and vote “No” on using more taxpayer dollars to release defendants in Cook County.

I look forward to your comments.

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