Friday, December 20, 2013

Public-Private Criminal Justice Collaboration: A Pretrial Service Agency’s Nightmare or A Needed Reality

I have been in the bail bond business for a large part of my life.  Over the years, I have seen just about everything.  In the case of public sector pretrial services and its ongoing and seemingly never ending fight against the commercial bail industry, I have seen them throw countless disparaging comments and fact-less arguments against the wall like cooked spaghetti, only to have most of them slide down the wall and end up on the floor.  The most recent of these arguments is linked to the issue of jail overcrowding.  According to claims made by the public sector pretrial community, jails are overcrowded because people can’t afford a bail bond.  In fact, they claim that 70% of the people in county jails are there because they can’t afford a bail bond.  Once again, more spaghetti on the wall…and more spaghetti sliding down and falling on the floor. 

Over the past several months, I have written several blogs outlining why this argument is false.  First and foremost, before one can claim that jails are crowded because people can’t afford a bail bond, it is important to first understand who is occupying the jails.  That being said,  if the public sector pretrial release community would objectively assess the pretrial populations, they would see that a large majority of pretrial detainees are not even eligible for bail (even though they are in pretrial status).  A study completed in 2012 by the JFA Institute showed that while 70% of defendants in the jails were there in pretrial status, however only 12% of them were actually eligible for bail…a far cry from the claim of 70% by those who oppose commercial bail.

Another reason that this argument doesn’t stick is that several of the states that are currently facing jail overcrowding problems are states that don’t allow commercial bail.  This includes Oregon, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Illinois.  So if there is no commercial bail and jail overcrowding exists, is it safe to say that commercial bail is not the cause?  I would think so.

As if any further evidence was needed, a couple articles on the bail debate came out earlier this week.  One came out of New Jersey and one came out of Montana.  While unintended, both of these articles do a good job of confirming my previous two points.  The New Jersey article mentioned a 2012 Drug Policy Alliance study that looked at jail populations and determined that not 70%, but rather 12% of defendants were there because they couldn’t afford a bail bond.  See the original article here:  These numbers once again show that bail is affordable for most everyone and people’s release is not limited by the cost of a bail bond.   The Montana article on the other hand, not only debunks the claims of the public sector pretrial community, but also shines a light on what might be the potential cause of the overcrowding issue.  According to research conducted by a jail administer at the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center, it was estimated that 70% of the jail’s population is not comprised of those who can’t afford a bail bond, but rather by those “who have violated the terms of their release on parole or probation.”  The administrator goes on to say that, “Many languish away in jail…as the state doesn’t have the resources to deal with them.”  Lastly the administrator claims that, “A lack of public defenders contributes to jail overcrowding.” See the original article here:  As you can see, the problems linked to overcrowded jails are not as simple as the public sector pretrial community would like you to think…and they are definitely not caused by the commercial bail industry.

It is time for the public sector to stop trying to discredit the bail bond industry with its barrage of shifting arguments that never seem to stick.  Instead, wouldn’t it be better for them to put the valuable tax dollars they receive into constructive discussions with the private sector commercial bail industry to determine the most effective way to manage defendants?   A collaboration of this kind would not be something new.  In fact there has been a growing trend lately of public, private and social entities working together to solve problems.  A new book entitled “The Solution Revolution” by William Eggers and Paul Macmillan talks about many of these types of collaborations.  Isn’t it time that we put our differences aside and embrace each other’s strengths to create the best result as opposed to just continuing to throw spaghetti, point the finger and hope someone listens?  I look forward to your thoughts.

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.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bail Month – Pretrial Service Agencies on the Attack While Ignoring their Own Failures

As we move further along in the Pretrial Justice Institute’s self-declared Bail Month, I wanted to point out a recent story out of Minnesota that I believe should open people’s eyes to the real failures of the pretrial community.  This morning the Star Tribune published an article about the 100s of people with mental illness languishing away in Minnesota jails.  Now, it is important to understand that this is not an article that the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) was behind.  Nor was it a story that the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) was behind.  How do I know?  I know, because it doesn’t point the finger at commercial bail as the cause and the problem.  And just for the record, they definitely wouldn’t be behind this story, because it is ultimately reporting on the failures of their own programs.  As most people know, the pretrial community (especially groups like PJI and JPI) isn’t much for discussing the real issues around the criminal justice system.  Instead these two organizations would rather spend valuable tax dollars (which they are constantly complaining about not having enough of) and private donor dollars to publically defame and disqualify one of the most effective components of the criminal justice system…and yes, I am talking of course about the commercial bail industry.

The interesting and troubling thing to me about this article (which can be viewed here… "Left in limbo, hundreds of Minnesotans with mental illness languish in jail” ) is that it really opened my eyes to the real misguided motivation of the pretrial community.  And I say misguided because, personally, I honestly believe there is a purpose and role for pretrial services in helping people with special needs, but unfortunately in reality that purpose and role goes unfulfilled.

For example, according to the article, “on any given day, the Hennepin County jail holds 100-200 inmates with severe psychiatric disorders.  That represents ¼ of the jail’s population, and they languish there, on average for three months before getting proper psychiatric care.”  Notice how they don’t mention that those people are there because they can’t afford a bail bond.

Now I am under the impression that Pretrial Service Agencies were created to assist and manage these types of populations.  They were designed to assist the truly indigent…those without means and without connections to family…those who have mental health issue or substance dependency/abuse issues.  But the problem is they are failing when it comes to this mission.  Instead they have taken their eye off the ball and focused it squarely on the commercial bail industry.  Nowhere can I ever recall seeing something about the intent of pretrial services (when it was first conceived) to be about people should not have to pay for a bail bond.  It has always been about making sure that those that need help get it.  So why today is the sole purpose and mission of the pretrial community to eliminate money bail?  Why are they so focused and committed to eliminating us as a pretrial release mechanism (especially when it has been proven time and time again to be the most effective way to ensure appearance)?  Why are they so focused, that they would spend countless taxpayer dollars designating an entire month to spreading lies and negative stories about the bail industry?  Wouldn’t it seem more appropriate to having a month dedicated to helping the people being held with mental disorders?  Wouldn’t it be more beneficial and appropriate to have month dedicated to honoring the pretrial community’s successes in helping people with substance abuse issues?  Those are the questions that I believe people want answered.  Those are the questions that I believe the pretrial community needs to answer and should be answering.

Imagine if the pretrial community focused on achieving the mission on which they were first created…to helping those that can’t help themselves.  Our jails might be a different place and our tax dollars might be going towards good as opposed to going towards public relations efforts and smear campaigns. 

So here are my recommendations to both JPI and PJI.  Designate a month dedicated to improving public safety.  Reach out to the commercial bail industry and find ways to work together to make sure that the people in the system get the help they need.  Acknowledge the role and effectiveness of commercial bail and show how the public is being protected more effectively when people are released on financially secured bail.  If pretrial would to reach out in this way, I know that the bail community would reciprocate and acknowledge the role and effectiveness of pretrial services. 

I honestly believe that if these things could happen, then the criminal justice system would be in a better place.  Together we can be a positive force that is maintaining the proper level of accountability for those who are not indigent and taking care of those in a smart responsible way that are and need assistance.  It is time to stop persecuting and smearing the commercial bail industry and time to start embracing us as a partner.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

September is “Bail Month”…How to Celebrate With the Facts

I was pleasantly surprised this week when I was forwarded an announcement from the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) declaring the month of September, "Bail Month."  Initially I thought, what a great idea, a whole month dedicated to discussing the benefits of commercial bail and sharing the facts on the effectiveness of the industry.  Especially since there is so much data available to PJI and their partner the Justice Policy Institute (JPI)…data that shows how effective commercial bail is and how ineffective pretrial programs are. To add to the excitement, earlier this month the Bureau of Justice Statistics declared 2013 the year of statistics.  Wow, a month dedicated to bail and a year dedicated to statistics, I can’t think of better environment to start a conversation about the commercial bail bond industry.  Let’s see, with so much research to share, where do you think the PJI and JPI partnership will begin?  Here are some good places they might consider…and just so you know when I say “places” I am talking about the volumes of research studies that they can tap into and share.  For example, there is:

  • The Bureau of Justice Statistics studies spanning 14 years (1990-2004) of release data in the country’s 75 most populous counties.  These studies (year after year) showed that commercial bail was the most effective form of pretrial release for both appearance and reduced recidivism.

  • The Tabarrok study, which assessed the failure to appear rates of several different types of pretrial release mechanisms, determined that commercial bail was the most effective way to prevent an FTA and ensure a defendants appearance in court.

  • The ALEC study completed in 1995 that assessed the failure to appear rate in California’s three largest counties and determined that commercial bail was the most effective form of release.

  • The ALEC study completed in 1997 that calculated a cost for a failure to appear in California’s three largest counties and determined that Pretrial release programs were potentially costing the counties millions of dollars.

  • The JFA Institute Study completed in 2012 that shows that a very small portion (13%) of those in pretrial status in Los Angeles County are eligible for bail and that the jails are not crowded because people are languishing away unable to afford a bail bond.

  • The University of Texas at Dallas Study that looked at 22,000 releases during 2008 and compared 4 types of release mechanisms, ultimately determining that commercial bail was the most effective way to ensure that defendants show up for court.  An additional finding from this study was that the cost of an FTA was discovered to be approximately $1800 per defendant.  Using that cost figure, it was determined that commercial bail saved Dallas County over $11 Million.
With so much research available to them, and remember it is the “Year of Statistics,” I wonder which study they will use.  Okay, to be honest, we all know which of the above studies they will end up using… NONE OF THEM.  So then the next question is what studies will they use that aren’t on the list above?  Once again, the answer is unfortunately and very predictably NONE.  Why?  Because no study exists or has ever been done that shows that releasing a defendant through a pretrial program is more effective than commercial bail. 

So then why would PJI and JPI declare that September is Bail Month?  That is a good question?  The answer of course is not to promote bail, or even promote pretrial (because it is hard to do that without any statistics…and remember, 2013 is the year of statistics, right?).  The answer is that the pretrial community is going to ramp up their taxpayer funded anti–bail propaganda machine to once again spread lies and mis-information about the commercial bail industry (much like last year’s efforts which resulted in the creation of the War on Public Safety document by the American Bail Coalition).

The most unfortunate thing about this is that the pretrial community isn’t doing this because it benefits local communities and law enforcement.  They aren’t doing this to educated people on the benefits and effectiveness of pretrial release (because that would make sense…and also, because we know that is too difficult to fabricate).  They aren’t doing this because it benefits crime victims and various advocacy groups.  And they are definitely not doing this because it saves counties money and lowers recidivism rates.  Then why, you ask?  Because it serves the purpose of the pretrial supporters.  In their mind, they need to constantly justify how good they are by declaring how bad commercial bail is, and in doing so they are able to feel good about themselves.  The problem is feeling good about yourself and just saying you’re better doesn’t make you better. 

If the pretrial community wants to declare September “Bail Month” then I think the bail community should fully embrace and endorse their call to action.  I move that during the month of September that the bail industry dispense and share “our” collective knowledge and research with those in the criminal justice system.  We need to make sure that the real “statistics” are being shared so that local jurisdictions can make the best criminal justice decisions possible.  It is time for the bail community to stand up and be heard and I can’t think of a better time to do so.  After all, it is Bail Month.

If you would like to receive copies of any of the above research studies, please visit our bail bond resource library and select which studies you are interested in.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Buildings, Contracts and Bail Bonds: Does Your County "Insure" Everything but Public Safety

One of the things that people understand least about the commercial bail bond industry is that it is a segment of the insurance industry.  Much like any auto, home or health insurance company, in most states, bail bond insurance companies and their agents are regulated and licensed by the state’s Department of Insurance.  This is because a bail bond is in essence an insurance policy.  It is a policy taken out by a defendant’s family (in most situations) that guarantees the appearance of the defendant in court.  If the defendant fails to appear, the policy ultimately goes into a “claim” status and the state or local jurisdiction is paid the amount of the policy, which is the full amount of the bond.  The insurance agent in this simple transaction is the bail bond agent.  Pretty straight forward stuff if you think about it.

The bail industry is part of a larger group of insurers called commercial sureties.  These are insurance companies that provide unique types of policies (surety bonds) that guarantee the performance of something.  The most common is a policy or bond that a company or individual gets to ensure performance in accordance with the conditions of a contract.  For example, a construction bond guarantees that a builder will complete a project in accordance with the terms or the original agreement.  There are literally hundreds of different types of surety bonds that sureties underwrite at the state and local level every day.  As I mentioned earlier, bail bonds are a surety product and fall into this category of insurance.

Now, most county and state governments are required by statute to obtain a surety performance bond in pretty much any and every activity they are involved with when it comes to spending tax dollars. This includes hiring a contractor or vendor, building a highway, tearing down an old building, revitalizing a neighborhood and so on.  Why do they do this?  Because they don’t want contractors and vendors taking advantage of them and the taxpayers.  They want to ensure that what they are asking for is what is going to get done.  Makes sense, right?  Absolutely!

Well here is a question then…if the government is so careful about ensuring that the new addition for the courthouse or the new school gymnasium are built by a company that has provided a guarantee of performance through a surety bond, than why do they not require the same types of guarantee and financial security in situations involving public safety and the criminal justice system?  The response you might hear is that these types of financially secured bonds are complicated and don’t really relate to the criminal justice system.  My answer to that type of thinking is that it is completely wrong. 

These types of financially secured bonds are not complicated and they absolutely do make sense in the criminal justice system.  Every family of every defendant in every court house around the country has available to them a number of local bail bond agents that can easily and affordably provide them with one of these financially secured surety bonds (or bail bonds as most people know them).   From the county’s perspective, if you are going to release a defendant from jail before their trial on the condition that they show up for court, doesn’t it make sense to financially secure that release with a guarantee of performance?  Don’t you want to guarantee the performance of that defendant so that he is held accountable for his actions, just like you want to ensure that the contractor building your new courthouse is being held accountable for meeting the specs of his contract and meeting agreed upon expectations?  Isn’t public safety important enough to assure via use of a bail bond in most release cases?

It does not take a lot of common sense to draw the connection between these two things.  Counties see the value in ensuring the performance of every dollar they spend.  That being the case, shouldn’t the same type of thinking apply to letting defendants out of jail?  Think about the options that are now available to the courts.  First is commercial bail, an option that has been part of our criminal justice system for years and that costs the counties nothing.  When a defendant is let out on a commercial bail bond, the county is being provided with an insurance policy financially guaranteeing the appearance of the defendant in court.  Compare that with own recognizance release through a pretrial release program, an option that does cost the county taxpayer dollars, and which has no financial security or guarantee.  In your opinion, which option makes the most sense?  Which option is holding the defendant accountable?  Which option is protecting the integrity of the criminal justice system?  Which option does a better job of protecting the public?  Which option follows the same line of thinking as other types of surety bonds counties and states require?  The answer is pretty clear. The answer is commercial bail.

If the county and state were to approach all expenditures in the same way and take the same type of stance towards financially protecting their investments and securing the performance of an entity, shouldn’t they do the same with the criminal justice system?  Shouldn’t they be turning to commercial bail to financially guarantee that defendants show up for court?  Shouldn’t they be turning to commercial bail to responsibly and effectively reduce jail populations and keep the system running smoothly and efficiently? Shouldn’t they be utilizing the option that does these things without costing the taxpayer one cent?  I look forward to your thoughts. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Pretrial Services – Defining Success by Failing More Than 20% of the Time

What if you only showed up for work 4 out of 5 days a week?  Would that be acceptable to your employer?  What if you only paid 4 out of every 5 bills you received from your local utility?  Would they still keep your power on?  What if you only completed 79% of your tax return?  Would the IRS let you get away with it?   The easy answer to all these questions is ABSOLUTELY NOT! 

So you are probably asking why I am asking such common sense questions.  Well, the truth is what is common sense to most of us is unfortunately not common sense to others.  For example, just this past weekend, an article was written in the Courier-Journal touting the incredible success of the pretrial services program in Jefferson County, Kentucky.  A state that you may or may not know that does not allow commercial bail.  According to a Jefferson County District Court judge, the Pretrial Service Agency in his county gets High-Risk defendants back to court “an amazing 79% of the time….”  Really?  Amazing?  Twenty-one percent of the time, the defendant is pretty much ignoring the authority of the system and doing whatever they want, and that, according to the judge is “amazing” and defines “success?”  Interesting and disturbing to say the least.

The article goes on to show some math to support the so called success of the Pretrial Services Agencies.  However, if you are a common sense person, it is really hard to define these numbers as “success.”  According to the article, 35,186 people obtained pretrial release in Jefferson County.  Each of these individuals went through a so called evidenced based risk assessment by the local Pretrial Services Agency.  Thirteen percent of low-risk defendants did not show up for court….does that sound like success?  Twenty percent of medium risk defendants did not show up for court…does that sound like success?  Twenty one percent of high-risk defendants did not show up for court…once again, does that sound like success?  To the pretrial folks, sure, it is great.  But to the community it is absolutely not.  Especially when almost 20% of the high-risk defendants are re-offending…in other words, several thousand defendants who have been released under pretrial services’ imaginary veil of supervision are ignoring the authority of the courts and in the process are running free to commit more crimes and victims.  And all this happens at a serious financial and social cost to the county and state.  When people fail to appear for court there is a huge financial cost that accompanies that act.  In Dallas, Texas that cost was found to be over $1,700 per defendant.  Applying that number to Jefferson County, based on a failure to appear rate of over 21% for just high risk defendants, the cost to Jefferson County is easily in the millions of dollars.

What makes this story even more disturbing is that this ineffective and costly system of managing criminal defendants (on both the front and back end of the process) is funded 100% by taxpayer dollars.  Yes, those taxpayers in Jefferson County, Kentucky are paying for a government run Pretrial Service Agency to fail 20% of the time.  And just for the record, when these 20% of high-risk defendants don’t show up for court, who do you think goes and gets them?  Who is held accountable and pays the court when they don’t show up?  The answer is no one.  Why?  Because there is no skin in the game and no accountability by any party involved (pretrial services or the defendant).  When a defendant fails to appear, Pretrial Service Agencies have nothing to lose.  The court just issues a bench warrant and it becomes the responsibility of already overburdened law enforcement to get him…which usually happens after they have committed an additional crime.

There is definitely not a simple solution to the challenges facing criminal justice systems like Kentucky.  However, there is a more effective solution.  A solution that is currently in practice in 46 other states;  A solution that gets defendants back to court better than any other form of pretrial release;  A solution that does not cost the taxpayers a single dollar; A  solution that actually generates revenue for the county and state through premium taxes and forfeiture payments; A solution that is based on a real risk assessment and is evidenced based; A solution that lowers recidivism and better protects the community; and finally, a solution that gives crime victims a chance at justice. This solution is the commercial bail bond industry.  It is time for states like Kentucky to start considering ways to more responsibly and effectively maintain the accountability of their criminal justice system and protect the public interest of its communities.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Blame Game: When All Else Fails, Blame the Bail Bond Industry

You don’t have to search long and hard nowadays to find a news story on jail overcrowding.  It seems like county jails all over the country are facing the similar challenge of how to deal with increasing populations and decreasing budgets.  While no formal in-depth research study has been conducted to determine the real causes of jail overcrowding, the pretrial services community hasn’t been shy about playing the blame game.  In fact, a key pillar of their current narrative is that the jails are crowded because of the commercial bail bonding industry.  They throw around statistics like 70%-80% of people occupying county jails are there with a pretrial status.  And these people are sitting there, languishing away in jail because they can’t afford to pay a bail bondsman.   While this simple argument might seem to make sense on the surface, it is a completely false and misguided statement.  In fact, it doesn’t take much analysis at all to debunk this pretrial services generated propaganda and myth.

First, the very study that is being used by the pretrial community to substantiate their claim that 70% of pretrial detainees are in jail pretrial is also the same study that can be used to discredit the claim.  In April of 2012, the JFA Institute conducted a study to look at the effects of AB109 and jail overcrowding in Los Angeles County.  The study was requested and funded by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  The study does show that approximately 70% of those in LA County jails are there in pretrial status.  What the study also shows however is that the majority of those defendants are not in what they call “pure pretrial” status.  Within that 70% are people who are on specific types of holds, which make them non-bailable.  When all is said and done the number of people eligible to bail out with a commercial bail bond drops substantially.  In a snapshot taken of LA County Jail’s pretrial population, they found 10,545 detainees in pretrial status.  Once you eliminate those that have a hold or that are determined to be too violent to release, the number of pretrial detainees that are eligible for bail drop to just over 1,300…or about 13%.  So to say that jails are crowded because of this 13% of detainees is not only false and misleading, but an obvious case of intentional finger pointing. 

Second, in the last month, there have been multiple news stories out of four specific states that are all dealing with jail overcrowding issues.  These states are Kentucky, Oregon, Wisconsin and Illinois.  While this might not seem that significant to most, it actually is very significant, since none of these four states allow commercial bail bonds.  In other words, how are jails overcrowded in these states if there is no commercial bail…unless, of course, commercial bail isn’t the cause of jail overcrowding.

Lastly, a primary purpose of county jails is to process and house pretrial defendants.  So, to say that the majority of the populations occupying these jails are defendants that are in pretrial status makes perfect sense.  However, there is a challenge being created by the misrepresentation and misuse of this narrative. Currently the pretrial services community is using “jail overcrowding” as a premise to falsely justify the release of individuals that the jails were designed to hold in the first place, and doing so in ways that are both focused and concerned more with population reduction than with public safety or appearance (which by the way are two of the most important aspects of any pretrial release method).

What our counties need to do is to find new innovative ways to manage and supervise those that make up these pretrial populations.  While a portion of them (approximately 13% in LA County) have the ability to quickly, easily and safely be released with a financially secured commercial bail bond, there are still a number of pretrial defendants (up to 87%) that do not initially qualify and need an alternative “safe” release option.   And when I say “safe release” option, I am not referring to a release option that doesn’t involve the concept of personal accountability like own recognizance release or release through a pretrial services agency.  I am talking about a pretrial release solution that incorporates the effectiveness and efficiency of the commercial bail industry.  I am talking about a release option that financially guarantees that the person will show up for their day in court and in the process meets all of the conditions of their release.  I am talking about a release option that maintains, protects and ensures the credibility and concept of accountability in our criminal justice system.   Currently the commercial bail industry does an extremely effective job in managing the release and appearance of a small portion of these jail populations.  If the counties want to effectively and safely release more of these defendants, then it makes sense to utilize a tried and proven industry like commercial bail to do so. 

What I would like to see are the counties, pretrial services agencies, the bail bond industry and all key stakeholders come together to candidly and constructively talk about this challenge.  I would like to see all parties come together to devise and propose “realistic” alternative release solutions that don’t exclude commercial bail but rather focus more on inclusion and our ability to contribute insights and experience to the situation.  What I would like to see is a group of stakeholders focused more on results and less on assigning blame.  I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

How to Save Your County Money…Use a Bail Bond Agent

If you are involved in the criminal justice system then you are probably aware of two of the most widely discussed challenges facing many counties and jurisdictions today, shrinking budgets and overcrowded jails.  While research has shown that jail populations are actually down for the third year in a row nationally, there are still many counties/jurisdictions around the country that are facing these two difficult issues.   In order for these counties/jurisdictions to figure out the most effective and long term solution to these problems, I believe that they need to answer two important questions.  First, who is currently in jail?  In other words, what type of defendants make up the pretrial population?  Second, what are the real costs associated with the pretrial process?   Is it the cost of incarceration or are there additional costs we should be focusing on?

Let’s start with pretrial populations.  If we are to truly understand why jails are crowded, we need to first understand who is in jail and why they are there.  I have talked about this in previous blog posts, but I thought it would be important to mention it again here.  Those in the pretrial services community believe the jails are crowded because those being held can’t afford to pay a bail bond agent.  In fact, they claim that anywhere from 60%-70% of those sitting in jail awaiting trial are there because they can’t afford a bail bond.  I am not sure where they get that statistic, but one thing that I do know is that people sitting in jail, are not there solely because they cannot afford a bail bond.  When someone is booked into a jail and given a “pretrial” status, they can fall into a number of different sub-classifications.  For example, here is a short list of these different types of defendants that make up these pretrial populations.  There are:

     - Defendants there on immigration holds….these defendants are not bailable
     - Defendants there awaiting transfer to another jail…these defendants are not bailable
     - Defendants there who have been arrested for a probation violation…these defendants are not
     - Defendants that have been determined by the judge to be too great of  a risk (flight and/or
       danger to community) to award bail

These are just a few of the types of defendants in the pretrial population.  As you can see, it is not just defendants who can’t afford a bail bond.  Additionally, through financing and payment plans, families are able to acquire the services of a bail agent more easily today than they have ever been able to previously.  What the criminal justice system needs is an in-depth study of who is in jail (what type of defendant, and why they are or aren’t able to secure release).  This research will show us what the real problem is and allow us to focus resources specifically on that issue.
The next issue is the cost of incarceration.  For as long as I can remember, the argument of the pretrial community has been that people who are being held pretrial cost taxpayers a lot of money.  I have seen a wide range of estimates ranging anywhere from $40-$90 a day.   And if it wasn’t for commercial bail, these people could be released through a pretrial services agency more readily and save the county these important dollars.  What the pretrial community forgets to include in this math equation of course, is the cost of their program to the community.  They might be saving money by releasing folks out of jail for FREE, but they are costing the county money by having a pretrial program in the first place. All the while, commercial bail costs the county nothing. That fact aside, I believe that there is a much bigger cost that is not being considered in this decision.  This cost is related to when a defendant who is released pretrial doesn’t show up for court.  This cost was brought to light in a compelling way in a recent independent research study done out of the University of Texas at Dallas.  This study looked at over 22,000 pretrial releases in Dallas County, Texas during 2008.  The study not only assessed the effectiveness of different types of releases, but more importantly assigned a cost to the county for every person who was released and didn’t show up for court.  That cost was determined to be over $1,780 per defendant. Taking that into consideration, it really begins to change the landscape of cost savings in the system.  No longer does the cost on the front end of the process need to be considered, but even more importantly now the cost on the back-end needs to be considered.  

Once you understand this, you can begin to see the importance of which form of release is utilized.  You want to make sure that defendants are let out in a timely manner, while at the same time you want to make sure that you let them out through the most effective form of release.   Well that form of release, hands down is commercial bail.  It has been proven time and time again by countless studies, including the recent University of Texas at Dallas study, to outperform all other forms of release.  So next time the county is trying contemplate letting a defendant out through pretrial services or a commercial bail bond agent, they should consider the cost of a jail bed on the front end, but even more importantly they absolutely should consider the more than $1,780 cost to the county on the backend if that defendant fails to appear for court.  In my opinion, there has never been a better piece of research available to stakeholders and decision makers to better understand the value and importance of the commercial bail industry and its effectiveness is saving costs in the criminal justice system.

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.