Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Virginia on My Mind…the Importance of Education in the Fight Against Pretrial Service Agencies

I would like to start this bail bond industry blog by taking my hat off to the hard working bail agents in Virginia and the work of Virginians for the Preservation of Bail. They set a new standard in our industry for getting bail bond agents to rally and fight together for a cause…something that historically has been sort of an achilles heel for the bail bond industry. I also was impressed by their creative use of both traditional and online communications, especially the utilization of social media in getting people to participate in the conversation and keeping them informed. Even the bail bond insurance companies all seem to be in alignment around this particular fight. It was actually really exciting to watch everything unfold. Unfortunately, with the Senate voting 8-7 against HB 728, the momentum has been interrupted. While this may seem like a roadblock, it really needs to be seen simply as a bump in the road. There will be more opportunities to continue the fight and I urge our friends in Virginia to keep their heads up and not to go away in defeat (and from the initial look of things, that does not look like it will easily happen to this new group). The progress that has been made should be seen as a way to go back to the drawing board and come out again stronger. In fact we are seeing other states like Florida rallying off of Virginia’s efforts and energy. My guess is that this is only the beginning.

Upon hearing the results out of Virginia, our executive team got together last Tuesday to discuss Virginia as well as other pretrial services hot spots around the country. What came out of this meeting was a lot of new ideas and strategies, but there was one consistent and important tactic that everyone thought was paramount to having success in the fight against Pretrial Services, and that is education. While the Virginia effort did a fantastic job of educating and informing the public (proven by their recent survey citing 75% of consumers prefer private surety bail bond agents over pretrial services), we can only wish that the message got more fully absorbed by key decision makers in the house and even more importantly, the Sheriffs groups.

Law enforcement has always been a tough audience for the bail bond industry, especially in its fight against Pretrial Service Agencies. While it is not their fault, it seems that many Sheriffs have the mentality that “we lock them up and bail agents let them out.” As much as we all know that this is far from reality, it unfortunately seems to be their perception and a tough one to get past. Additionally, law enforcement has a pretty strong connection to Pretrial Service Agencies through their “public service” make-up and sometimes even their physical locations. In fact, in many circumstances Pretrial Service Agencies sit right in the Sheriff’s office. So it is not difficult to see where this affinity comes from.

So why would the Sheriffs support a function in Pretrial Service Agencies that increases crime and crime victims (a fact proven by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics study) while admonishing a group of taxpaying small businesses (being Bail bond agents) who fully support Sheriffs’ and their important role in the justice system. We think it comes down to a lack of understanding and education. Sheriffs are just like consumers, legislators and other influential groups in their lack of knowledge around the role of bail bondsman. It is incumbent on the entire bail bond industry to try and educate these important audiences on the true value of the bail industry. They need to understand the role of the bail agent in ensuring that defendants truly have their day in court and that they are not recidivistic while they are awaiting trial…two areas in which we all know Pretrial Service Agencies fail.

I will continue to post blogs on the topic of education and its importance in our fight. I look forward to your comments.

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