Friday, August 28, 2015

Bail Bonds and Finding the Good: What goes right in the criminal justice system everyday

If you are in the bail industry, like me, you probably read all the articles that are published in the media about our industry.  Unfortunately, most of these articles are about negative things.  For example, a couple weeks ago, a fugitive recovery agent in Arizona, broke into the wrong house looking for a fugitive defendant.  To makes things worse, the house belonged to the Phoenix Chief of Police.  This story hit every paper around the country.   Now don’t get me wrong, this situation is horrible and should have never happened, but what people need to realize is that this one story shouldn’t define the entire industry.  Because on August 4th 2015, the same day this was happening, approximately 14,000 other bail agents were doing a whole heck of a lot of good for the criminal justice system.  These 14,000 agents were ensuring that over 90,000 defendants around the country show up for court.  Unfortunately, you don’t see a lot of news stories about that.

Everyday bail agents all over the country are guaranteeing that the wheels of our criminal justice system continue to turn.  As the most effective form of pretrial release, bail agents in 46 out of the 50 states across the country, ensure the appearance of those accused of a crime in court.  Why is this important?  Because when the defendant shows up for trial, the system gets a chance to work.  The defendant gets a chance to tell their story.  The people get a chance to tell their story.  The potential victim(s) gets a chance at justice.  And most importantly, the defendant isn’t out in the community committing additional crimes. 

Unfortunately, the media misses the opportunity to share the reality of this misunderstood business.  Instead, they gravitate towards promoting the dark, swarthy, crooked images that have been created and promoted by Hollywood, reality television and crime novelists over the years to sell more tickets, ratings and books.  In addition to getting the image wrong, the majority of stories about the bail industry get the facts wrong too.  From stories about one-off incidents like the one in Arizona to more mainstream politically motivated stories about “bail reform” the bail industry is rarely portrayed in a factual way.  For example, when describing why jails are crowded, these stories claim that defendants are stuck in jail because they can’t afford a $3000 bond.  What they don’t explain is that a $3000 bond would only require that the defendant come up with $300 to be released.  Additionally, in today’s competitive bail market, with payment plans widely available, that defendant has the ability to be released for even less than that as long as they agree to a payment schedule.  Also, what these stories never mention are the countless studies that have been conducted around the topic of pretrial release that all prove that it is the most effective way to ensure a defendant’s appearance in court.  Not just one study, but dozens of studies, conducted by government entities, educational institutions and private parties, that all come to the same conclusion, bail works.  The only problem is that the effectiveness of bail doesn’t align with the “soft on crime”. “hug a thug” political narrative driving the bail reform movement today.  So instead of reading about the truth and the facts, we get the glorified drama and negative spin.

What many people don’t realize is that, love them or hate them, bail agents play an essential and effective role in the criminal justice system.  At no cost to taxpayers, they hold defendants accountable and help ensure justice is done for all parties involved.  Yes there might be incidents that portray the industry as “bad”, but the reality is that there is a lot more “good” done in one day by bail agents than you would ever think.

Imagine if we judged all professions in the world like we do the bail bond industry, just by the negative stories we see in the media.  Is it fair to say all teachers sleep with their students because a couple teachers did so?  Probably not.   Is it fair to say all professional athletes hit their wives because one did?  Probably not.  I think you get where I am going with this.

Bail is something that not a lot of people fully understand or have any experience with, but it is an industry that most will describe in a negative way based on what they see in the movies and read in the media.  It is time that people stop rushing to judgement when they hear the word “bail.”  Instead, they should make the effort to fully understand the role, the people and the effectiveness of the industry and base their judgement on the facts.  Because if people do take the time to understand this industry, I am confident that they will see how much the good does outweigh the bad and how important bail is to maintaining accountability and fairness in the American criminal justice system.

Monday, August 10, 2015

2015: A Good Year to be a Bad Guy

As the “tough on crime” mantra appears to becoming a thing of the past, one thing is for certain, 2015 will be one of the best years in modern history to be a “bad guy.”  Yes, all over the country, our criminal justice system is transitioning away from being tough on criminals to something more of a friend to criminals.  In other words, punishment and accountability are no longer the answers to preventing crime.  Instead, those concepts have been replaced with more politically correct soft on crime concepts of “more understanding” and “more caring” towards those who are accused of crimes.  Now proponents of this approach often say that they aren’t being soft on crime, but rather they are just being “smart on crime.”  While well intentioned I am sure, the reality is that these so called “smart on crime” approaches aren’t ending up with very “smart” results.  In this new proposed model of criminal justice, the real victim is no longer the person who had a crime committed against them, but rather the person who committed the crime.  No longer is it more important to seek justice for the victim, but rather it has become more important to seek justice for the criminal…a far cry from a once effective tough on crime approach and a far cry from something I would call “smart.”

Now many of you reading this blog are probably saying to yourself, “Brian, come on now, you really think that things are that bad?  Do people really care more about the bad guys than the good guys?”  My answer to that is both “no” and “yes.”  First, “no”…I don’t think that the majority of people want criminals to go unpunished and to be roaming our streets without oversight.  Second, that being said, yes…the evidence shows that the people we are letting out of jail are not good people and the proof is in the pudding.  Many of those in leadership positions around the country are making decisions about our criminal justice systems based on ideology and emotion.  And these decisions are not ones that are designed to improve the state of public safety in our communities, but rather improve the state of the criminals.

For example, in California, voters were recently duped by the state’s leadership to pass Proposition 47.  This proposition was called “The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.”  To this day, I am still not sure what this proposition had to do with Schools or with Safe Neighborhoods.  What this proposition did do however is make being a bad guy in California an easier thing to be.  With county jails being overcrowded (a situation caused by a previous “smart on crime” bill AB109...the topic of another blog post) Proposition 47 was offered as a cure all to the growing problem.   But instead of curing the problem by expanding the capacity of our jail and prison systems to alleviate the overcrowding, Proposition 47 takes the opposite approach.  Proposition 47 waters down the description and classification of a long list of crimes and reduces (almost to the point of eliminating) the punishment for others.  Under Proposition 47, many crimes that were once deemed to be felonies are now being re-classified as only misdemeanors.  Those accused of these new misdemeanor crimes face very little repercussions for committing them.  In fact, most of the time, they are just let out of jail (sometimes just cited and released) with no real supervision and no assurance they will ever come back.  The best we get from a public safety standpoint is a promise by the person that they will return for court. And what happens if they don’t…pretty much nothing.  A warrant is issued and put into a growing pile of warrants for local law enforcement to deal with.  And trust me when I say that those committing crimes are not stupid.  They know that they don’t have to show up for court.  They know that no one will come and get them when they don’t.  And they know that if they do get caught they will just be released again.  Does that really sound like something that is “smart on crime”…does that sound like a formula for Safe Neighborhoods and Schools?

Once again, some of you are probably saying, come on Brian, people aren’t being let out of jail for real crimes.  They are probably only letting out those who have jaywalking tickets and unpaid parking tickets.  Unfortunately, people are getting out for what many consider, including me, “real crimes.”  Under Proposition 47 charges like heroin possession, Rohypnol (date rape drug) possession and cocaine possession are no longer felonies.  Forgetting the question of why someone would possess Rohypnol in the first place (if they weren’t planning on using it), the declassification of these types of charges from felonies to misdemeanors, can have serious consequences.  For example, someone who has been convicted of possessing these types of drugs and has now only been charged with a misdemeanor (or multiple misdemeanors) can still legally go out and buy a gun.  Yep, I said buy a gun.   But to be honest, they might not have to even buy one, because they can just go out and steal one (as long as it is valued under $950) and thanks to Proposition 47 face nothing but the equivalent of a parking ticket.

Proponents of this soft on crime approach will always tell you that it is too early to tell if it is working or not.  Unfortunately, for those of us that live in the community, it isn’t too early.  Property crimes have skyrocketed all over the state.  Auto break-ins and thefts are skyrocketing.  Jails are being re-filled with those that have been released and caught committing additional crimes only to be released again under the same lax supervision standards.  As I mentioned earlier, it is a good time to be a bad guy.

As someone who has worked in the criminal justice system for my entire professional life, I have seen a constant shift between tough on crime and soft on crime stances among our leadership and legislation.  However, to be honest, I have never seen such a monumental shift in one direction that I have seen today.  A shift towards the criminal being treated like the victim and in many cases treated better than the real victim.  Let’s just hope this current shift doesn’t last too long.  Let’s hope that communities raise their voices and demand that the public be protected and victims be supported. Because at the end of the day, crime should never pay and it should never be a good time to be a bad guy.

I look forward to your comments.