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The Atrophication of The Criminal Justice System

Posted March 12, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President under Bail Bond Insurance  - 4 Comments

The atrophication of the criminal justice system over the past several decades is nothing short of remarkable.  My memory goes back to the late sixties.  Remember how safe we felt as kids? Our parents let us roam the neighborhoods and walk to the convenience store and bus stops unchaperoned.  No fear.

Come forward five decades.  Now we drive our kids to school even if school is three blocks away.  We make sure we pickup our kids from soccer practice on time so they don't sit on the bleachers alone and unguarded.  Fear.

A front-page article appeared in today's issue of the USA Today, The Ones That Get Away.  The gist of the article is more than a few prosecutor's across the nation are passing on the opportunity to extradite fugitives, many aggravated felony offenders, back to their jurisdiction to face prosecution.  They claim the financial cost of extradition is too great.  More of a burden than the taxpayer should absorb. Or, the evidence is too weak and they could not win their case.  If this is the case, dismiss the case and recall the warrant so law enforcement and others will not attempt the apprehensin of a fugitive you will not be prosecuting.

These lame excuses probably work on your random uniformed citizen, someone who has never been a victim of a crime or works within the criminal justice system.  It doesn't fly with those of us who work in the environment every day. 

In the bail profession we see everyday where local court systems are releasing defendants on every kind of charge on small cash deposits, through a taxpayer funded public pretrial release program or on their own recognizance.  The courts will spend millions to create a new bureaucracy to provide employment to friends and cronies but they can't find any money to pay to extradite an alleged rapist to face their charges and service the victims of these crimes.

The current attitude seems to be; we don't care if you fail to appear for court as long as you leave the jurisdiction.  The courts have no qualms about keeping any cash bail deposited to help fund for whatever.  Deposit cash bail requires no effort. 

There is a sense that some public officials working in the criminal justice have simply given up and have become cynical.  Why even bother prosecuting these criminals?  It's just a revolving door.

Well, it is a revolving door to be sure.  The only way to slow the spin is to hold criminals accountable for their actions.  That's what we do in a civilized society.

Bail agents are in a for-profit profession.  Bail agents do their job because they like their job but they also perform their duties because they want to be successful at what they do, turn a profit, feed their family and be a functioning participant within their community.  No different than any other small business owner.

One of our local veteran bail agents in Indianapolis, Larry Wooden, recently coordinated the capture of a fugitive who was hiding 2000 miles a way in Northern California.  The fugitive was taken into custody with the assistance of local law enforcement and a hold was placed on him for Marion County, Indiana.  Larry told me just last week that Marion County elected to not extradite this fugitive.

Larry spent several thousand dollars in recovery costs and untold man hours looking for this fugitive only to be told the prosecutor doesn't want him returned.  Go figure.

Where is the resolve, the passion for bringing criminals to court to answer for their crimes, to serve victims of crime and your community?

I have an app on my phone for a local news station.  Not a day goes by I don't receive an alert of some crime, shooting, home invasion or accident from a drunk driver.  Crime is rampant.

The backbone of justice is quickly becoming a limp noodle.  Bail agents are always ready and prepared to perform and do so on a regular basis.  In many cases we're just waiting for the local politicos to see through the double talk of purveyors of taxpayer funded pretrial release programs, risk based assessment schemes and deposit bail.  Point the bat signal to the sky and call upon the bail profession to do what we do best, get people to court.  Cat-atrophy averted.

Crime Increases Nationally

Posted October 22, 2012 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Executive Vice President under Bail Bond Insurance  - 2 Comments

The U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released its report Criminal Victimization, 2011. This report reveals some alarming statistics with respect to the increase in crimes nationally.
 
According to the BJS report there was a 17% increase in the overall rate of violent victimization per 1000 persons age 12 and older. The rate of violent crimes increased from 19.3% in 2010 to 22.5% in 2011. Household burglaries increased 14% in 2011 over 2010.   Property crimes also saw an increase of 11% year over year.
 
In my view the alarming increase in violent crimes is due, in part, to the departure by many courts across the country from guaranteeing the appearance in court of criminal defendants with a bail bond. They instead use release options designed to generate revenues for the court or the expand the use of taxpayer funded pretrial release bureaucracies with no obligation to deliver results.
 
In an article published by KPCNEWS.net, October 14, 2012, by Bob Braley entitled Bail Bounty?, it was reported that Noble County, Indiana was moving toward a 10% deposit (90% discount) bond program as opposed to requiring bail bonds to guarantee a defendant’s appearance in court.
 
The judges interviewed for the article were particularly concerned about the defendant getting their money back and the benefits received from cash bail deposits i.e. the payment of costs and fines. 
 
The perceived concern of these Noble County judges that criminal defendants not incur the costs of a nonrefundable bail bond premium rings hollow. First, the bond premium or 10% cash deposit is usually made by a third party, family, friends, etc. In the case of the cash deposit option paid to the court, the money, by law, is receipted in the defendant’s name. Why? Because this gives the court and the state access to these funds to pay any costs or court fees related to the criminal case and any other amounts owing the state for taxes, back child support, etc.
 
Furthermore, the court does not make any effort to reduce the amount of court costs and fines or providing a criminal defendant with a free attorney. No, these judges instead elect to remove the one cog in the wheel critical to a successful prosecutorial process, the guaranteed appearance of the defendant!
 
Noble County along with several other counties in Indiana has elected to place their fiscal needs of their court ahead of the safety of their residents and the best interest of victims of crime.  With the attitudinal shifts regarding bail requirements as being seen in Noble County, is there any wonder we are seeing an increase in crime nationally?
 
State Association News
It’s a busy time of year with state association meetings held recently in California, Indiana, South Carolina, Washington and upcoming meetings in Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas. I was able to attend meetings in a few of these states; here’s what I learned.
 
South Carolina – The SCBAA met in Columbia October 10th. As with nearly every SCBAA meeting, there was a continuing education component. There was significant discussion regarding enacted legislation, supported by SCBAA that states, a bond expires after 36 months if certain conditions are met. SCBAA meetings always seem to have 75 bail agents or more in attendance. This association is very well organized and proactive in the preservation of commercial bail.
 
California – The California Bail Agents Association returned to Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in beautiful Lake Tahoe October 14-17 for their one and only meeting of the year.  The last two years in California have been tumultuous to say the least with respect to criminal justice. The passing of AB 109 has had a lasting impact on not only the criminal justice system but public safety. Many jurisdictions around that state are reporting an increase in crime due to the early release of convicted felons from state prisons.
 
In this last session, California’s General Assembly considered the expanded use of GPS monitoring in lieu of bail bonds and making every arrestee eligible for release on their own recognizance. Fortunately, both efforts failed. Look for these issues and more to resurface in 2013. A united front by representatives of the commercial bail industry will be critical if we
are to curb the pursuit of legislation friendly to criminal defendants and harmful to public safety minded Californians.
 
 
CBAA Meeting in South Lake Tahoe 
 
 
Indiana – The Indiana Surety Bail Agents Association held its fall meeting in Ft. Wayne October 18. ISBAA President Jim Degan ran the meeting and introduced Allen County Chief Deputy David Gladieux who spoke about the effective use of bail bonds in Ft. Wayne.  ISBAA lobbyist Kelly Waggoner spoke on efforts underway to expand the use of bail bonds throughout Indiana.
 
Allen County Chief Deputy David Gladieux speaks to Indiana Bail Agents.

A Fugitive Recovered, An Anecdote
Earlier this year, a veteran Florida bail agent wrote a large bond for a drug offender arrested and jailed in a small Louisiana parish. The defendant failed to appear for court and the 180 day forfeiture clock began to tick.
 
The agent immediately stopped what he was doing and began searching for the defendant in the usual ways; calling known contacts, visiting locations the defendant disclosed on his applications and performing online searches.
 
Days, weeks and months passed by before they finally received a tip the defendant was seen in the Los Angeles area. They were within 14 days of the due date. The veteran bail agent and his recovery agent ultimately made two cross-country trips to the west coast before the fugitive was finally apprehended.
 
With the fugitive in cuffs they arranged for a commercial flight that would transport them all to Louisiana. From the airport they drove for a few hours until they reached the small parish jail.  There being no sally port they asked someone standing on the sidewalk outside the jail, who appeared to be a jail staffer, where they could surrender a fugitive. “Who you got there?” she asked. Looking in through the window she said, “Wow! I can’t believe you got this guy, you’re going to make a lot of people very unhappy.”
 
The veteran bail agent and his recovery agent walked the defendant into the jail where they met with the prosecutor. The prosecutor congratulated the duo for apprehending the fugitive then expressed his grief over losing out on the big bond forfeiture payment. “I was just discussing with our clerk over lunch how I excited I was we would be coming into a lot of money in a few days,” he recounted.
 
You see, the veteran bail agent and his recovery agent received little or no help from the small parish sheriff’s office during the several months they searched for the fugitive. The court was trying to get the money while the veteran bail agent was trying to save the money by recovering the fugitive, which is what he did. He did his job. How refreshing.

 

Attention Bail Agents....Time To Get Involved

Posted September 12, 2012 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock,Executive Vice President under Bail Bond Insurance  - 1 Comment

Are you one of those bail agents that swears off participation in state and national bail associations as a waste of time? You question the leadership or legislative agenda of these associations? Perhaps you believe the association is controlled by one surety company or another or perhaps a large general agency.
 
It may be that your resistance to get involved is simple apathy or bail is still strong in your county and you’re not concerned about what’s happening elsewhere.   Well, it’s time to get involved.
 
Perhaps you’ve heard of billionaire George Soros? Well, he’s taken up the cause of pretrial detainees by providing substantial funding to the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) to promote the elimination of money bail, bail bonds in favor of less restrictive and cost free (to the defendant) options.
 
The first of three propaganda pieces being distributed by JPI is titled Bail Fail: Why The U.S. Should End the Practice of Using Money For Bail. This report is a biased view on why every criminal defendant deserves to be released without a financial guarantee of appearance.  They propose, by asking the right set of questions, the courts can increase the rate of court appearance by criminal defendants.
 
This proffer is what’s known in Texas as, all hat and no cattle. The package is impressive but the content is severely lacking. Every bail agent should read this document very carefully to understand the effort underway to end the use of commercial bail bonds.
 
We are approaching the state association fall meetings for California, Indiana, Mississippi, Ohio and Texas where this document will surely be discussed. For those of you who have repeatedly opted out of participating or contributing to your state association, now would be a good time to get involved.

Bad economy not good for bail businesses

Posted September 5, 2012 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA, Executive Vice President under Bail Bond Insurance  - 0 Comments

A common misnomer among the general public is, regardless of the economy there will always be crime and as such business will always be booming for bail agents. If only that were true, like any other small business, bail agents are feeling the pinch in these tough times. 
 
A bad economy can and has created a number of negative financial impacts on the commercial bail industry and they come from different sources. When someone is arrested they would typically have any number of friends, family or co-workers they could call upon for assistance to post their bond.  With high unemployment, soaring gas prices and a home foreclosure epidemic, an arrestee’s circle of financial support has shrunk considerably. Most people are holding their cards close and their cash closer to deal with their own immediate financial needs. Offering financial help to others has fallen off their list of priorities.
 
States, counties and city governments are also dealing with this bad economy. Stockton, California recently had to file bankruptcy. A tightening of their budget resulted in a reduction of police officers and jail staff. As a result, there are fewer arrests and sections of jails are being moth balled due to the lack of personnel. A smaller jail means fewer beds and the need to expedite the release of pretrial detainees to avoid overcrowding.   Some questions arise as to how these pretrial detainees are being released pending trial.
 
Some jurisdictions have resorted to the wholesale release of defendants through unsecured release options like OR, taxpayer funded pretrial release services or 90 percent discounted bonds. There is a mistaken belief these release options are actually saving money because defendants are released quickly with a perceived savings on the cost of housing. Once you get passed the immediate gratification reality hits. Defendants fail to show for court, criminal cases are not prosecuted and crime increases.  This culture of unsecured release fosters a lack of respect for the criminal justice system among criminal offenders. No accountability on the part of the court system or criminal defendants.
 
Some courts looking for remedies are guilty of overlooking the obvious; the commercial bail profession. Simply put, bonds are too high in this poor economy. Some offenders charged with aggravated offensive require a large bond regardless of the state of the economy while more common place criminal offenses can tolerate a more modest bond. The courts are infinitely better off reducing the bond schedule as opposed to going from a large bond, to not requiring any security. For some reason this concept just doesn’t register.

Courts and local government would be wise to not compound their cash crunch with a crime wave. Citizens have enough to worry about with this poor economy without having to fear for their personal safety. Allowing criminals to be released on an unsecured bond and no supervision is tantamount to throwing the citizenry under the bus.   With local courts sticking with proven secured release options bail agents can continue to survive and failures to appear can remain in check even in a tough economy.

Put me in Coach!

Posted April 16, 2012 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock,MCBA Executive Vice President under Bail Bond Insurance, and Deposit Bail  - 1 Comment

Philly court taps the bail agent to help with appearance rate
It has been three years since a series of articles ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer shining a spotlight on Philadelphia's broken bail system.  The expose cited one billion dollars of uncollected forfeited bail, nearly 50,000 long term bench warrants for failure to appear, witness intimidation and a criminal justice system bearing no teeth and largely ignored by criminal offenders.
 
Earlier this month, the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, Administrative Governing Board, released Administrative Order No. 01 of 2012. The Administrative Order acknowledged a historical failure to appear rate of 30% among criminal defendants with cases in the Court of Common Pleas and Municipal Court and more than 60,000 outstanding warrants for failure to appear overall.  These are just a few elements that underscore the ineffectiveness of a one-size-fits-all Ten Percent Deposit Bail System and Taxpayer Funded Pretrial Release Program which had wandered beyond its original mandate, aiding the indigent criminal offender in obtaining release from jail, pretrial.
 
The reform and review period took nearly three years to complete and included countless hearings and meetings.  Participating in these meetings along with court and local officials were American Bail Coalition Executive Director Dennis Bartlett and Lexington National President, Brian Frank, an ABC member.  Dennis and Brian did an excellent job promoting the positive impact commercial bail would have on the chronic failure to appear problem in the City of Philadelphia.  The most glaring shortcoming in the decades old system of deposit bail and the public pretrial system has been the absence of accountability. There has been zero incentive for the program administrators to perform and no penalty for failing to control the failure to appear rate and collection of forfeited deposit bail.  Reinstating the use of commercial bail to the bond system in Philadelphia will have an immediate, substantial impact on the failure to appear rate and by extension a reduction in the number of outstanding bench warrants.
 
While additional work must be done to provide for a reasonable period of time to return fugitives (the law currently provides only 20 days), this is a great opportunity for the commercial bail industry to engage themselves in efforts to bring back a level of respect to the criminal justice system in the City of Philadelphia.
 
Thank you American Bail Coalition, specifically Dennis Bartlett and Brian Frank for their exhaustive efforts in bringing about positive change to the bail system of city of such historical significance.

CCJJ Behind Alternative Bond Bill

Posted May 11, 2011 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President, American Surety Company under Bail Bond Insurance, Commercial Bail, and Legislation  - 5 Comments

The Alternative Bond bill SB11-186 died last night, after being assigned to House Appropriations, as the 2011 legislative session ended. The Alternative Bond, at its core, is a scheme for Colorado courts to engage in the bail bond business by collecting premiums normally paid to bail agents for posting a bail bond. Unlike the bail bond agent, the courts would have no risk of paying the full bond if a defendant was not timely rearrested after a failure to appear.   This concept is taken from the old government playbook; take your money with no responsibility to perform and cloak it in a disguise of being in the interest of public safety.
SB11-186 had passed through the Senate last week by the narrowest of margins (18-17) and simply did not have sufficient time to get through the House, or did it? It is more likely that the arguments and evidence offered by the commercial bail industry was sufficient enough to erode support for SB11-186 in the House. Some House members simply could not support adding several hundred bail agents to the unemployment scrolls, while at the same time costing the state millions of dollars in annual revenues generated by the bail industry.  As House Sponsor Rep. Waller testified yesterday when the bill was heard before the House Judiciary Committee, “I don’t want to see even one bail agent put out of business”.
The Alternative Bond was the brainchild of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ). The CCJJ was established by the Colorado Legislature in 2007 through HB07-1358. The Mission Statement of the CCJJ is, “to enhance public safety, to ensure justice, and to ensure protection of the rights of victims through cost-effective use of public resources.”
The CCJJ is comprised entirely of public servants, with the possible exception of three at-large members which could come from the private sector. CCJJ representatives testifying in support of SB11-186 were chastised by members of the Judiciary Committee for not having invited a member of the commercial bail bond industry to participate in discussion regarding an alternative bond concept.   In reading the CCJJ Bi-Laws, such an appointment may be prohibited in that any member must recuse him or herself should they have a pecuniary interest in the subject matter. Well, that pretty much leaves out the private sector in general as every taxpayer in Colorado has a financial interest in matters discussed by CCJJ.
There are 26 members of the CCJJ. Senator Morse and Representative Waller, the Senate and House sponsors of SB11-186 are both members of this commission. In addition to the 26 members of the commission there are several subcommittees i.e. Behavioral Health, Comprehensive Sentencing, Drug Policy Task Force, Legislative, etc. These committees are comprised of public servants ranging from police chiefs to various heads of probation departments. No one from the private sector, save a private defense attorney, has been included.
The commercial bail bond industry’s fight to preserve bail in Colorado was unprecedented and most importantly successful, this time.  Representative Waller and members of the bail bond community agreed to work together over the next year to discuss issues relating perceived problems with the expedited release of pretrial detainees.  This is a welcome opportunity because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. We only need to be invited to participate. 

Thus comes the end of a very long two months. What was it the ring announcer said after Rocky fought Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan) to a draw in Rocky III?  “Thank God”, (it’s over).

APOB Going It Alone With HB11-1306

Posted May 1, 2011 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice Presdient, American Surety Company under Bail Bond Insurance, and Legislation  - 3 Comments

There has probably been no greater counteroffensive mounted by the bail bond industry than the one brought about in Colorado in opposition to SB11-186The Alternative Bond bill. Public funded pretrial release proposed the bill early this year and the bail bond industry has responded with an all out assault on this government intrusion into the private sector. It’s a fair fight.
 
The legislative battle over SB11-186 has yet to be won and in comes Americans for the Preservation of Bail (APOB) with the introduction of HB11-1306 which would push the sunset of bail regulations from 2012 to 2017.
 
At first look why wouldn’t this be good for the bail bond industry? After all they gave an extension to all other forms of insurance. Well, the bail bond industry is used to getting the short end of the stick. Be that as it may, we fight the battles that need fighting and we move forward.
 
In the case of Sunset, the bail industry has not been sitting in an easy chair watching reruns of Cheers; we’ve been working with DORA’s designee for Sunset review for the past several months. Surety company members of the Colorado Bail Bond Round Table (CRT), who collectively write 90% of the bail in Colorado, have been in regular discussions with DORA and had been making good progress when out of nowhere, HB11-1306 was filed. This bill is no more than a sucker punch by APOB which has only served to embarrass the bail bond industry and undermined CRT’s efforts to work with DORA in a meaningful and constructive way.
 
CRT and its members (Accredited Surety and Casualty Company, Inc., Allegheny Casualty Company, American Surety Company, Bankers Insurance, Fairmont, International Fidelity Insurance Company, Pioneer General, Lexington National Insurance Corporation, Sun Surety and Safety National) have renounced this move to derail efforts to protect and preserve bail in Colorado. I personally urge all bail agents in Colorado not to support HB11-1306. I encourage each of you to contact your surety company to confirm their position on this bill. 
 
In spite of what you may be hearing from other sources, your surety company is working to protect your livelihood. Without you, the bail agent, we have no business. Meaning, your surety will not act against your best interest. So, the question is, “Are you going to listen to a group of surety companies representing the large majority of bail written in Colorado or other groups that represent less than 10% of that market”? It’s a no brainer.

Court Should Have Allowed a Bail Bond in Lieu of Cash Higher Court Rules

Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President, American Surety Company under Bail Bond Insurance, Deposit Bail, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 1 Comment

In a published decision released Monday, the Court of Appeals of Indiana ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Melissa Kay Sneed in the case of Sneed v. State and against Decatur County on the issue of whether the court should have granted her request to post a bail bond in lieu of a cash bond.

For bail bond agents in Indiana this ruling is long overdue.  Too many judges in Indiana have refused a defendant’s option of posting a bail bond and instead have demanded a bond in the form of a full cash bond or a meager cash deposit of 10% (with the balance of the bond being unsecured).

In my view this decision will require judges in counties currently closed to bail bonds such as St. Joseph, Bartholomew, Vanderburg and Marshall to begin allowing pretrial detainees to opt to post a bail bond as opposed to full cash or a deposit bond.

This should be welcome news to residents and more importantly victims in these counties closed to bail bonds who have long endured their local disregard for the rights of victims and residents by not using the most effective release option for assuring a defendant returns for court, a bail bond.
 
As Sneed v. State clearly states, “…when the defendant is able to deposit the entire amount of the cash bail without the help of a bondsman, it is not very likely anyone will pursue the defendant if he or she decides to skip town prior to trial.”  Bail Agents, whose bonds are backed by insurance companies, have a financial interest in getting a defendant, who has absconded, back to court.

This is a good day for the bail industry in Indiana and I can’t help but quote that much maligned comedic actor Charlie Sheen, and scream, “Winning”!
 

Adding up the Fiscal Positives of Commercial Bail Bonds

Posted March 21, 2011 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President American Surety Company under Bail Bond Insurance, Commercial Bail, and Legislation  - 3 Comments

Gone are the days of the bail agent justifying their purpose and function by stating ‘we get our man to court’. That is, if our defendant decides not to show for court, we track him down and return him to the custody of the court at no cost to the taxpayer, and in those few instances where the defendant cannot be located, the bond is paid in full.
 
Private sector commercial enterprises that assume risk for a profit and carry out their responsibilities, to the best of their abilities in order to avoid loss are under attack by state government entities who seek to put us out of business by getting in our business. Colorado Senator John Morse, sponsor of the bail industry killing legislation known as SB 186, said it quite clearly when introducing his bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, “the courts want to get into the bail bond business”.
 
The bail bond industry demonstrating its superior effectiveness of government pretrial release programs and deposit programs is no longer all that is needed or required to defend against unwanted government competition. Commercial bail must now show our industry’s revenue generating component, one that is fiscally positive to the counties and states where bail bonds are utilized.
 
There are several ways where commercial bail can and does generate revenue for counties and states. First, there are tens of thousands of dollars generated from licensing bail bond agents and appointing agents with surety companies. There are hundreds of thousands of dollars paid in premium taxes by the surety companies in every state, every year. There are millions of dollars paid in bail bond forfeitures where a defendant could not be located within the legal time frame. These are tangible and calculable dollars that can be gathered and offered as evidence of the commercial bail industry’s positive fiscal impact on state revenues.
 
Harder to quantify are the intangible savings to county and states courts and law enforcement agencies. Thousands of man hours go into seeing defendants appear in court and tracking and retrieving those defendants who have failed to appear for court.
 
In order for the commercial bail industry to effectively fend off unfair government competition, bail agents and sureties alike must begin logging and documenting costs associated with the apprehension and return of fugitives and losses paid in those instances where a fugitive cannot be returned. This information should be gathered by state associations and insurance associations where the data can be batched and included in a useable and comprehensive report.
 
Bail bond agents should not be discouraged at these attempts by government to put them out of a job while placing communities at higher risk of increased crime. We have the ammunition in the form of vital information right at our finger tips. We only need to fill our quivers with this data to effectively convince the powers that be that commercial bail cannot only outperform any other form of pre-trial release; our industry can generate millions of dollars in revenue in the process

Bail Agents to Meet Next Week in Las Vegas

Posted February 18, 2011 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President American Surety Company under Bail Bond Insurance, Meeting Recaps, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 1 Comment

PBUS is holding its 30th Anniversary Conference (Agenda) in Las Vegas next week.  The meeting will be held at the Flamingo Hotel February 20 - 24.  Fans of Dog Chapman will get another chance to hear from him and his posse.

 

A must attend is the Political Action Luncheon at 11:45 AM on Wednesday and the Council of Presidents Meeting that afternoon at 2:30 PM.  At this meeting you will hear from the various state presidents about pending legislation and other hot issues they are dealing with in their markets.

 

Surety companies will be holding dinners and cocktail parties for their agents.  American Surety Company will be holding its Bail Agent Appreciation Evening at the Voodoo Lounge located on

the 50th Floor of the Rio Hotel (Send me an email if you would like to be added the guest list).

 

The annual PBUS meeting affords bail bond agents from across the nation to gather and discuss issues relating to the commercial bail industry.  I hope to see there!

Local Bail Associations Can Be Effective

Posted December 9, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President, American Surety Company under Bail Bond Insurance, and Meeting Recaps  - 0 Comments

After spending the weekend at home in Indy, I boarded a direct flight to LAX Sunday night. I sat across from Reggie Miller (#31) on the flight across country, he never said a word. Reggie will forever be treated like the rock star he is, in Indiana.

American Surety has a number of agents in California and I wanted to visit as many as I possibly could before winding down this year’s travel schedule.

As was the case during my time in Colorado last week, where I was able to attend the second meeting ever of the Rocky Mountain Bail Bond Agents, I got wind that a year end meeting of the San Diego County Bail Agents Association was being held at the The Butcher Shop Restaurant on Tuesday. I can’t help myself, I like to participate in any discussions about bail and local meetings can be the grittiest of all.

Not being a member of the San Diego County association, I called my good friend Marco LiMandri to obtain permission to attend. Permission granted, I attended the meeting with Brian Smith of Captain Smith’s Bail Bonds, a new agent to American Surety Company. Brian is a former Marine and a second generation bail agent (his father was Larry Smith), who began writing bail shortly after returning from serving in the first Gulf War. Brian is proud of his service and it is clearly evident in how he decorates his office.

The luncheon meeting was well attended. The discussion focused on how to improve the competitive dynamic in San Diego. There has been significant solicitation around jails, as well as bail slamming, the practice of bonding defendants without first obtain cosigners and premium, which presumably are secured after the bond has been posted. The SDBAA is very proactive and consciences about how the bail profession is conducted and perceived in the San Diego market. Their goal seems to be to maintain a high level of professionalism in an environment of fair competition.

While a number of states have a state association, I can only think of a handful of cities with a local association, Fort Worth, Houston, San Jose, San Diego and Santa Ana. The San Bernardino area agents dissolved their association earlier this year apparently due to a lack of participation. County associations can be very useful when dealing with local issues involving the interaction between bail agents and the jail, concerning solicitation, consumer complaints, etc., which are issues too local to be handled by a state association. Taking up an issue of concern for local agents is best done with one voice as opposed to one bail agent standing alone.

Large cities like Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Seattle, Minneapolis, New York City, Miami and Dallas should consider forming a local association. Big cities tend to have big problems. Working together on a local level to resolve local issues can be beneficial to all bail agents and a good way to maintain a high level of professionalism and unity.

Send me a comment if your county has an established local association.

Commercial Bail Regrouping in Colorado

Posted December 6, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA under Bail Bond Insurance, Commercial Bail, Meeting Recaps, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

 
The defeat of Proposition 102 in November was asetback to the advancement of commercial bail in Colorado. Prop.102 would have limited the use of free release to first time offenders and created a safer environment for Coloradans while increasing the use of secured bail bonds. Bail bond agents and sureties doing business in the Rocky Mountain state will now work to find a way forward.
 
I was travelling in Colorado last week, this time with a travel buddy, Gary Logue. Gary is Assistant Vice President for American Surety Company, in charge of Underwriting. He’s been with the company for 20 years and is a valuable asset.
 
Our objective for this trip was to meet with every ASC agent, review their client files and make sure they were in compliance with the statutes. Anything less will get you a fine in Colorado.
 
In speaking with each agent there was palpable concern with what the fallout will be with the defeat of Prop. 102. Add in the sunset provision of the bail regulations coming up in 2012 and it was enough to give one pause.
 
Many bail agents who were in favor of passing Prop. 102 were not necessarily in agreement with the strategy employed in that process. The bail industry nationwide has always taken an approach of education and cooperation, building relationships and working closely with state legislators to facilitate the passing of bail friendly legislation. The effort behind 102 seemed to have been a “no holds barred” approach where the means would justify the end result. The end result was the measure failed and many public officials were left wondering what to think of bail agents in Colorado.
 
As for the renewal of the bail regulations in 2012, this should not be taken lightly though it is unlikely commercial bail will not continue in Colorado. Commercial bail provides a vital service to every community ensuring criminal defendants appear in court. The state also generates revenue from unresolved forfeitures.
 
New Colorado Association
While Gary and I were in Colorado we learned of a meeting being held by a recently formed bail agent association, the Rocky Mountain Bail Agents. The meeting was held at the Ramada Inn in Thornton, just north of Denver, Thursday, December 2nd.
 
There was a somewhat surprising turnout of sixty agents and surety company representatives at this meeting. One bail bond agent could not recall seeing this many agents in one setting. Historically, Colorado has had a difficult time keeping a viable association active.
 
I was asked to say a few words in support of the effort to start the new agent association. Speaking from the heart, I asked those in attendance to support any effort that would improve the circumstances in their state. Putting aside competitive differences and working together in a professional manner was the key to ensuring a successful outcome.
 
Colorado agents are right to be concerned about the future of commercial bail in their state. Sitting on their hands could guarantee their fate; apathy can be corrosive. However, active participation and financial contributions to lobbying efforts is the best remedy for success. I’ll be on bail agents every time to get the job done.
 

Georgia Bondsmen Meet in Savannah

Posted November 22, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President American Surety Company under Bail Bond Insurance, and Meeting Recaps  - 0 Comments

The bail bondsmen of Georgia surely know on which side their bread is buttered. As one person put it, in Georgia, “bondsmen serve at the pleasure of their sheriff”.   Considering this, it should come as no surprise GAPB holds it’s Annual Conference in the same city and hotel as does the Georgia Sheriff’s Association. 
 
GAPB rolls out the red carpet hosting a special evening of dinner and dancing exclusively for Georgia sheriffs.  The big event was held at the Warehouse on River Street in downtown Savannah. The evening was sponsored, in part, by American Surety Company. ASC also contributed a Big Green Egg Smoker; Sherriff Thomas Brown of DeKalb County held the winning ticket.
 
Meeting Notes
Attorney Matt Tucker was retained as GAPB’s legal counsel while Beverly Iseghohi, the Association’s lobbyist, had her contract renewed. Beverly played a key role earlier this year in the passing of HB 889, the bail restrictions legislation. HB 889 provides that offenders charged with select felony offenses must post a bail bond unless expressly overruled by an elected judge.
 
HB 889 was a topic of conversation during the meeting. Some agents were concerned about those judges who were not happy about being held directly accountable for releasing a defendant without bond who would otherwise be required to post a bond under HB 889. Others were less sympathetic arguing that bail bondsmen and the general public watched for years as judges released defendants charged with aggravated offenses without bond and without accountability. Bail bondsmen are financially accountable for every bond they write.
 
The GAPB membership voted to contribute $1,000 to family of Chief Deputy Kevin Roberts of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, killed in the line of duty.
 
Jared Skelton was re-elected President while Kelly Winkles was elected to replace Terry Genone as the association’s Vice President.  Area directors remained the same.
 
The GAPB Spring meeting will return to the King and Prince Resort on St. Simons Island, date to be announced.
 
That’s it for now. Have a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving.
 
 

Memphis Bail Bond Blues

Posted November 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President American Surety Company under Bail Bond Insurance, Meeting Recaps, and Pretrial Release  - 0 Comments

During my recent stop in Memphis I found the bail bond market there to be but a shadow of its former self. No more bail bond agents hustling bonds in the basement of the courthouse or visiting inmates. Pretrial Release is accepting more and more defendants into their program which grants release at the taxpayer’s expense. Bonding companies have either shut their doors or let go a number of their agents adding to the seeming lack of activity in and around the courthouse.

I have roots in Memphis; our family lived there in the early to mid-seventies. My father, Jack Whitlock, owned Allied Bonding Company and did a bustling business. On occasion I would make a Saturday morning trip down Poplar Avenue with my Dad to spend the morning at this office. Those Saturday morning visits at the age of nine or ten were my earliest memories of being around the bail bond business. Many of his employees and associates from that time are still writing bail there today.

Mildred Battle, owner of Battle Bonding and a longtime American Surety agent, says “business is as tough as it’s ever been”. A year ago, Mildred had several agents working for her and was able to work a regular schedule. 

Within the last year, Mildred has had to release five agents reducing her staff to one agent in the daytime.   She must now carry the load herself, working 12 hour shifts, seven days a week and still taking bond calls after eleven until the office opens at seven in the morning. “I think I can keep this up another six months before I start to break down”, Mildred says, “Just doing what needs to be done to survive”. 

With the down economy and aggressive premium financing tactics of her competitors, it has been tough to keep her doors open. She has been able to prevail by writing smart bail and keeping her forfeitures to a minimum. “I’ve never had a problem with forfeitures” Mildred declares. “That’s what’s saving me now”.

It is projected the Shelby County Justice Center will be relocated from its current downtown location to East Memphis near the Shelby County Penal Farm. The property surrounding the Penal Farm is all government owned.  As a result there will be no bonding companies situated in close proximity to the jail or courthouse. This will present a significant change for bond companies like Battle Bonding who is currently located about 300 feet from the front door of the courthouse. As for Mildred Battle’s outlook, “we will just have to tough it out”.

Tennessee Association Meeting

Call it timing, call it scheduling conflicts, but for whatever reason I’ve not made it to a Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents meeting in a few years which ASC agent J.R. Henderson was good enough to remind me.

TAPBA held a continuing education class at Sam’s Town Hotel & Casino in Tunica, Mississippi, on Friday, November 13 with a turnout of near 300 bail agents. At the meeting we heard from longtime TAPBA lobbyist William Pope, regarding SB 2654 and SB 2916, favorable bail bond bills that passed earlier in the year.

TAPBA President Charles White spoke of the financial support ($5,000 to date) the Tennessee association was contributing to the Santa Clara County (San Jose, CA) Bail Agents Association fight against their local pretrial release agency. Tennessee has limited pretrial release programs with agencies operating in Memphis and Nashville. TAPBA recognizes the potential threat pretrial services present to the public safety and the bonding community and their contribution to the California fight is a clear recognition of this fact.

It always gets my blood pumping when I see several hundred bail agents in one setting as was the case in Tunica. Bail agents can be a mighty force for good when joined in a common cause. TAPBA holds five classes a year and this one event had 20% of the state’s 1500 licensed bail agents present, very impressive.

Next Up

I’ll be travelling to Savannah, Georgia for the year-end meeting of the Georgia Association of Professional Bondsmen. American Surety Company is sponsoring GAPB’s Sheriff’s Appreciation Night. It is always a great event and well attended. I hope to see you there.

A Hop, Skip and a Jump to Year End Bail Meetings

Posted October 26, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock,MCBA under Bail Bond Insurance, Commercial Bail, Meeting Recaps, Pretrial Release, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

I knew when I originally planned this recent trip it would be very taxing on me personally and to my fellow road warriors in the bail bond industry. State bail agent associations typically do not plan their events around events held in other states. So, when I took a look at the week of October 15, I saw trouble ahead, California, South Carolina and Texas would all be holding year end meetings this same week. The challenge was on.
The California Bail Agents Association held their 31st Annual Convention at Bally’s Las Vegas, October 17-19. The South Carolina Bail Agents Association held their 2010 Annual Conference in Columbia, October 20, while the Professional Bondsmen of Texas held their Annual Convention at The Menger Hotel in San Antonio, October 20-23.
My week began Sunday in Las Vegas where I participated in an American Bail Coalition (ABC) board meeting to review the positive efforts made in 2010 and to help plan a strategy for 2011. ABC remains a cohesive group of bail insurance companies and will continue to act in the best interest of commercial surety bail agents.
The CBAA meeting started with the Welcome Reception Sunday night. A CE class was held Monday morning with the big dinner and bocce ball tournament that night. 
During the Monday morning session, San Jose area attorney Ash Pirayou gave an update of his efforts on behalf of the Santa Clara Bail Association to curtail the use of pretrial services operating in that county. Santa Clara County has one of the country’s largest pretrial service agencies operating for more than 40 years. Their current strategy is to propose a new policy which is to base a defendant’s qualification for release through pretrial released on their stated income. An income verification policy would significantly reduce the number of financially able offenders from getting free bail.
Mr. Pirayou and the bail agents of Santa Clara County are seeking donations from bail agents and surety companies alike to support their fight against pretrial release. They believe a victory in Santa Clara County will have a profound impact on pretrial services operating not only in California, but throughout the Untied States. Email Ash Pirayou at apirayou@rutan.com to see how you can help.
Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich was also a guest speaker. He spoke of his support of bail agents and his efforts to curtail the use of soliciting around courthouses and jails. Several “sidewalk marketers” have been arrested for soliciting and there are more to come according to Mr. Trutanich. This was welcome news to CBAA members who responded with huge applause.
CBAA lobbyist Kathy Lynch provided an update on pending legislation that would impact the bail bond industry in California. Notably, AB 1369, was recently passed by the General Assembly only to be  vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. This bill would have granted authority to correctional administrators to release inmates who remained in jail 20 days after arraignment, on electronic monitoring. AB 1369 was not introduced by CBAA, though CBAA worked closely with legislators to make sure AB 1369 would not adversely impact commercial bail. AB 1369 is expected to be refiled after a new governor takes office in 2012.
South Carolina
Tuesday morning I flew cross country to Columbia, South Carolina to attend the SCBAA meeting Wednesday morning. Approximately 125 were in attendance, each of whom received an nice computer bag with the SCBAA and ASC logos.
The meeting consisted of visits from Past Deputy Attorney General Alan Wilson who is running for Attorney General of South Carolina and U.S. Senator Vincent Sheheen who is making a bid to become the state’s next governor. Both are avid supporters of commercial bail. Melanie Ledgerwood of Accredited Surety and Casualty presented a power point presentation on Pretrial Release Services which was very informative and alarming. South Carolina Court Administrator Walter Leverette reviewed bond hearing procedures.
SCBAA President Mike Curlee disseminated information prior to the meeting about how several counties have begun charging a fee of $10.00 on each bond written in General Sessions Court citing South Carolina Code of Laws Section 8-21-310(13).
During the upcoming legislative session SCBAA will continue to focus on curtailing the use of deposit bail and pretrial services. Both programs are ill-suited to guarantee a defendant’s appearance in court.
Texas
The annual meeting of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas was once again held at The Menger Hotel in San Antonio, the 2011 conference will be held at the Westin La Cantera Resort in San Antonio. The 4th PBT Golf Classic, which was well attended, raised a princely sum for the PBT PAC. American Surety Company sponsored the Welcome Reception at Pat O’Brien’s Pub. This event is always fun and draws a great crowd. During the reception, Jerry Watson with AIA Surety was presented the Award of Distinction (formerly the Friends of PBT Award) for his longtime association with PBT and for his many contributions to bail in Texas.
The Opening Ceremony on Friday got off to a great start with entertainment from Bill Riggs, a positive attitude speaker and magician. He had everyone in the room slapping a knee.
A Town Hall Meeting was held in the afternoon. Scott Walstad, Chair of the PBT Legislative Committee brought everyone up to speed on the 2011 legislative agenda and addressed all questions.
Dinner and reception that Friday evening included an auction with items such as a Texas shaped guitar, rattlesnake wine bottle holder and iPad with proceeds going to Texas Bail PAC. The following day at the Award Luncheon, Michael Kubosh of Houston was issued the President’s Award while Marjorie Walstad of Dallas received the Professional Bondsmen of the Year.
Six nights on the road was a long time even for me. After a week of rest I’ll be back on the road for more. Just ahead are meetings in Georgia, Indiana and Tennessee which, of course, I will file a report. 

Elections Day is next Tuesday. Don’t forget to vote!

What's not to like about Colorado's Proposition 102?

Posted October 7, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President American Surety Company under Bail Bond Insurance, Legislation, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 5 Comments

It seems like only yesterday I was in Denver attending a very brief, but required hearing to advance a ballot initiative in Colorado. As I reported to my readers at that time, an organization called Safe Streets Colorado was pushing an initiative to limit the use of Pretrial Services to first time criminal offenders and misdemeanants.
Getting an initiative on the November ballot, Safe Streets Colorado would require obtaining nearly 75,000 validated signatures on petitions in support of the initiative. A daunting task, but with the help of the Americans for the Preservation of Bail (APOB), Colorado bail agents’ and concerned citizens’; 172,000 signatures were submitted to the Secretary of State on August 2nd.  According to APOB this is the most signatures ever submitted in support of a ballot initiative in Colorado’s 132 year history; quite an achievement.
After overcoming a legal challenge over a filing deadline set by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State certified the initiative as Proposition 102.
I’ve had a number of conversations with bail bond agents in Colorado and around the country about the choice of taking the issue of Pretrial Release and the release of criminal defendants from jail at taxpayer expense to the taxpaying citizens of Colorado. Some agents I spoke to believed this was absolutely the right path to take while others preferred the legislative process.    
The bail bond industry in Colorado has suffered for years from an apathetic and incongruous bonding community. Colorado has been unsuccessful in their efforts to form a cohesive bail agent association similar to what we see in California, Oklahoma and Texas, etc.
As a bystander, I’ve not seen anything like this in my 28 years in bail. I find the effort which has taken place in Colorado to be very intriguing and I’m anxious to see the result. 
To APOB’s credit, they saw an opportunity to bring Colorado bail agents together under a common cause and in doing so have done the near impossible, placing an initiative on the November ballot that would severely limit the use of Pretrial Release. Should Proposition 102 pass, and I believe it will, it will be seen as a huge victory not only for Colorado Bail Agents but the citizens of Colorado who are tired of seeing their tax dollars used to provide free bail to criminal defendants.
If I was a citizen of Colorado, I would vote yes to Proposition 102.

I would be interested to hear your comments on Proposition 102 and the course taken to limit the use of taxpayer funded Pretrial Services in Colorado. Click here to send me your thoughts.

Use of Deposit Bail in Indiana Hurts County Extradition Fund

Posted September 27, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President under Bail Bond Insurance, Commercial Bail, and Deposit Bail  - 3 Comments

In late August I was the invited speaker at the Rotary Club in Griffith, Indiana. The engagement was arranged by Luis Rojas, a licensed recovery agent northeastern Indiana.  There were local law enforcement officials, namely the Griffith Police Chief, who were interested in learning more about bail bond insurance impacting the County Extradition Fund.
As I’ve written many times, deposit bail is used by a number of Indiana Courts to the detriment of Indiana residents. The extensive use of deposit bail also directly impacts, adversely so, the County Extradition Fund.
In most states, revenue generated through the payment of bail bond forfeitures is deposited to the state or county general fund. In Indiana a bail bond forfeiture is comprised of two segments, the first 80% is considered a Late Surrender Fee while the last 20% is entered as a judgment should the forfeiture go to term. Upon payment to the court, 50% of the 80% Late Surrender Fee is deposited to the Police Pension Fund (IC 27-10-2-12(i) with the remaining 50% of the late surrender fee being deposited to the County Extradition Fund (IC 27-10-2-12(i). The 20% percent judgment is earmarked for Indiana’s Common School Fund (IC 35-33-8-7(e). Unlike the Police Pension Fund, the County Extradition Fund is only funded by bail bond forfeitures.
This brings us back to deposit bail. The Police Chief of Griffith unfortunately resides in Lake County, a county whose courts use deposit bail extensively.   Because the court only obtains a 10% deposit of the full bond and rarely, if ever, properly forfeits the bond in the event of a failure to appear, the Lake County
Extradition Fund receives little, if no, money from bail bond forfeitures. For that matter neither does the Police Pension or the Common School Fund.
The members of The Griffith Rotary Club, largely comprised of local business owners and officials, were somewhat astonished to learn their local courts were releasing defendants charged with everything from felony DUI to domestic violence on the cheap, deposit bail.  No one was held accountable to recover fugitives and no effort made to collect the remaining 90% of forfeited deposit bonds.
Ironically, any court’s use of deposit bail not only forsakes the County Extradition Fund, Police Pension Fund and Common School Fund, it also increases the number of failure to appear warrants placing a greater strain on law enforcement, adding insult to injury.
 Employing the use of commercial bail would positively impact the County Extradition Fund with an increase in revenue allowing law enforcement to return fugitives from out of state at little or no cost to the taxpayer.

The principal goal of the commercial bail bond industry is to ensure defendants awaiting trial appear in court at all times required, to avoid a financial loss. Should a bail agent fail to perform, the forfeiture may have to be paid. The payment of a bail bond forfeiture would then benefit the Country Extradition Fund, Police Pension Fund and the Common School Fund. Administrators of these funds should take note and contact those county officials continuing to accept deposit bail to the detriment of, not only these funds, but the general public safety of Hoosiers.

Mississippi is Rolling

Posted July 20, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA under Bail Bond Insurance, Meeting Recaps, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

Governor Barbour was on TV recently touting how clean the beaches are on the Mississippi coast, that the BP Oil Spill had not harmed their shores, so “come on down”.  Well I came on down, not because the Governor asked, but because I was already scheduled to attend the MBAA’s Summer Conference in Biloxi.

Unfortunately, while the clean white sandy beaches of Biloxi were spotless, they were also empty.  Everyone must have been at the Treasure Bay Casino because it was packed with gamblers and MBAA members in town for the conference.

The conference started with a fete at Thunders in Pascagoula where it was hot and sticky with cold beverages and karaoke.  Everyone seemed to have a good time enjoying some down time.

Click to view MBAA 2010 Summer Meeting Slideshow

Patty Hodges is the current president of the MBAA and was re-elected to another term at this meeting.  The MBAA is a well run organization and each meeting I’ve attended has well over 75 agents in attendance.  They always make it fun by providing T-shirts to each attendee along with their conference packet.  This year the T-shirt had a caricature of someone getting arrested over a slogan of “Support your local bondsmen, get arrested”.

House Bill 900 was passed earlier this year and soon becomes effective.  Robert L. Perkins, Director of Licensing at the Mississippi Insurance Department, was on hand to discuss that portion of HB 900 that prohibits a bondsman from writing bail in a county where they are related to someone who comes in contact with bailable inmates.  To demonstrate the breadth of the definition of relation, you would be in violation of this section of law if you are writing bail in a county where you are related to the coroner or someone who held a seat on the County Board of Supervisors. Furthermore, if you are related to a circuit court judge you are prohibited from writing bail bonds in any county located within that circuit.

The meeting also had a pleasant diversion with non-bail speaker Marshall Ramsey, a political cartoonist with The Clarion-Ledger who narrated a slide show presentation of his cartoons from the last ten years which included Hurricane Katrina.  I was fortunate to win a signed copy of his collection of cartoons, 10! Marshall Ramsey’s Ten-Year Celebration.

MBAA Scholarships were awarded to three college students who met the character and academic requirements.

American Surety Company contributed to the MBAA’s already healthy bank account as one of the sponsors of 2010 Summer Conference.  MBAA doesn’t get as much notice for their strong organization, as do some of the larger states, but they’re no less effective.  Nice job MBAA, I can’t wait to return for your next big meeting.

 


 

On the schedule for this week is the PBUS Mid-Year Meeting in Chicago.  The meeting is being held at the Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park and runs July 21-24.

Bail Bonds in Ohio - Looking Ahead

Posted July 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA under Bail Bond Insurance, Meeting Recaps, and Post Conviction Bonds  - 0 Comments

The Ohio Bail Agents Association held their third quarter meeting in Columbus this past Saturday.  The discussion centered on the upcoming legislative season and the needs of the commercial bail bond industry in Ohio.

Similar to Indiana, Ohio courts are moving more and more toward the, revenue inspired, 10% bond option with many courts accepting to accept only 10% deposits; no bail bonds.  This short sighted strategy by some Ohio courts has placed a strain on the criminal justice system through increased failure to appear warrants, reduced conviction rates and the disenfranchisement of victims of crime.

The State of Ohio is staring at an ugly $8 billion dollar budget shortfall in 2011 and must find ways to administer huge cuts in overhead.  One of the areas being looked at is the state’s criminal justice system.  Senator Bill Seitz (R) is the sponsor of SB 22, and a member of the Judiciary – Criminal Justice Senate Committee. SB 22 is a reform bill that addresses sentencing reform, GPS monitoring of inmates released early from prison and recommends releasing early, prisoners who have served 85% of their prison term.

Opportunity for Post Conviction Bond

The early release of prisoners is an area where the bail bond industry can offer an effective tool for getting parolees to comply with the terms of their release resulting in a decrease in the recidivism rate.  A Bureau of Justice Statistics study of prisoners released in 2006 indicates Ohio had a 30% recidivism rate.  The study shows, of the 11,621 inmates paroled in 2006,  3,486 were arrested on a new charge, absconded and remain at large or otherwise violated various terms of their parole.

 

By requiring as a condition of early release, the parolee obtain a Post Conviction Bond, family and friends would be brought into the process by providing a financial guarantee the defendant will comply with the terms of their parolee or risk returning to prison. 

The use of a Post Conviction Bond would not interfere, in any way, with the work being done by parole officers.  It would serve as additional incentive for the parolee to comply with the terms of their parolee and reintegrate into society.

I had the honor of meeting with Senator Seitz last October on behalf of the American Bail Coalition to discuss an amendment to SB 22 that would create an option for the parole board to require a Post Conviction Bond.  The idea was well received and is still being considered.

Legislative Initiatives

The OBAA, which will hold their annual conference on September 23 and 25, is considering introducing legislation which require a bail bond be posted on defendants charged with an aggravated felony (bail restrictions), requiring a defendant to post a bail bond upon being rearrested for failing to appear on a deposit bond (One bite at the apple) and establishish a time certain for the court to notify the surety of a failure to appear.

 

OBAA President Eddie Miller is determined to see the passing of legislation that will benefit the bail bond industry in Ohio.  Eddie said, “We have little chance at success without the support and participation of every licensed bail bond agent in this state.”

The bail bond industry in Ohio faces huge challenges ahead and will only succeed if the bail agents and surety companies operating in the Buckeye State work together as a cohesive unit.  Success is within our reach.  We just need to make it happen and we will.

Making the Case for a Post Conviction Bond

Bail Bond Business Never Dull

Posted June 28, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBAA under Bail Bond Insurance, and Commercial Bail  - 0 Comments

It was one of those three week stretches that had me in five states, thirteen airplanes, four hotels and four rental cars covering 10,000 nautical miles.  During this period was a combination of meetings with new bail bond agents, visiting with existing American Surety Company (ASC) bail agents and participating in meetings involving the expansion of commercial bail.

California and Nevada

My first stop was Las Vegas where it was 105 degrees in the shade.  I met with a new bail bonds agent for ASC before making a three hour drive to Riverside, California where I met with ASC agents in that market.  I made it back to Las Vegas that evening.

 

Fortunately, Nevada’s legislature is in the off season making it one less state to worry about, for now.  The California General Assembly however is going at full steam.  Assembly Bill 1369, is the primary focus of the commercial bail industry in that state, which would allow defendants still in custody after sixty days (thirty days for misdemeanors) to apply for release on an electronic monitor.  The two California bail agent associations, CBAA and GSBAA, continue to work closely with Assemblyman Curt Hagman to prevent the passing of any legislation adverse to bail.

Louisiana and Mississippi

Next, it was down to the Gulf Coast where I met with a longtime bail agent who will begin writing for ASC in Southern Mississippi.  She was confident all bail agents will be writing on insurance within three years.  Current law allows an individual to write on a ratio of cash with a minimum deposit of $30,000.

 

The Magnolia State recently passed H.B. 900 April 1.  This bill, effective July 1, 2010, contains several changes impacting both bail agents and sureties.  H.B. 900 will 1) prohibit a bail agent from writing bonds in a county where they are related to someone who works in a official capacity where bailable defendants are housed, 2) bail agents must submit a full set of fingerprints with an application for bail license for the purpose of conducting a criminal background search, 3) states the purpose of bail is for appearance only and cannot be forfeited for any other reason, 4) the clerk must mail notice of forfeiture to surety within ten working days or forfeiture is set aside, 5) require witness protection agencies to notify the court when a defendant has entered their program, providing grounds for set aside of forfeiture 6) provide for  revocation of bail license if final judgments are not timely satisfied and 7) provides for the full remission of a bond, less costs, if the defendant is surrendered or detained in another jurisdiction within twelve months of final forfeiture.   H.B. 900, all in all, is a fair piece of legislation.

I return to Mississippi next month where I will be attending the Mississippi Bail Agents Association meeting at Treasure Bay Casino in Biloxi, July 12-13.  ASC is an event sponsor.

My two day trip to the Gulf Coast also put me in New Orleans amid the BP Oil Leak Disaster and an amazing lightening show and downpour that temporarily flooded the streets of downtown.

The Association of Louisiana Bail Underwriters (ALBU) has been as busy as any bail association in America.  ALBU President Guy Ruggiero circulates regular legislative updates.  His most recent update brought to our attention several bills which have been enacted this session.  SB 120 , which becomes effective 8/15/10, increases the minimum premium rate on bail bonds from $60 to $120;  SB 685 makes bail jumping a crime carrying a sentence of 1-3 years and a $2,000 fine;   HB 554 prohibits offenders charged with domestic abuse battery from being released on their own recognizance and HB 1047, which creates the Bail Bond Apprentice Program, was sent to Governor Jindal June 18 for signature.  When the apprentice program becomes law, new licensees will be required to work for a licensed agent for a period of six months before becoming eligible to obtain a full license.

Oregon and (back to) California

Efforts continue to reintroduce commercial bail to Oregon.  This state has been be using a combination of deposit bail, release on own recognizance and pretrial service for more than 35 years.  The current system has not been effective which is why commercial bail is being considered.

 

ASC is a member of the American Bail Coalition (ABC).  It was in this capacity I travelled to Portland where I joined Brian Nairin of AIA and fellow ABC member, ABC Executive Director Dennis Bartlett and ABC legislative advocate Paul Romain in a working group involving legislators and various state agencies in a continued effort to allay any concerns about reintroducing commercial bail.

 

The Oregon legislature will reconvene next January where commercial bail legislation will be considered.  Reinstating commercial bail to Oregon and permitting fugitive recovery in that state will have a dramatic impact on public safety and victims’ rights by reducing the number of failures to appear and returning fugitives.  ABC is comprised of twelve member companies all of whom have the best interest of the commercial bail industry at heart.   Continued cooperation among the majority of commercial bail underwriters on the legislative front gives the bail industry the best chance at success.

 

I finished my most recent road trip with a stop in California, this time in the northern part of the state where I met with ASC agents in Sacramento and Fairfield before returning to Indianapolis.

Developing

Colorado is brimming with activity related to the ballot initiative that would limit release through pretrial services.  The bail laws are also due to sunset in 2012.  That state is seeing a significant increase in bail agent participation largely due to the efforts of the American Preservation of Bail, a newly formed organization whose focus is to advocate for bail agents in the fight to preserve commercial bail.  ASC recently became a member, as we are in support of any efforts working in the best interest of commercial bail.

 

Mark Your Calendar

The PBUS Mid-Year Meeting is just around the corner.  The summer meeting will be held at the Fairmont Hotel in Chicago July 22-24.  I’m personally delighted about this venue as it’s only a short drive from Indianapolis, my home base.

 

Don’t forget about the 21st Annual Steven G. Whitlock Memorial Golf Tournament, benefiting Camp Esperanza and brought to you by the Professional Bondsmen of Texas, being held August 4.  This year’s event is shaping up to be our best ever.

Enjoy your summer and please share your thoughts on any of these issues by clicking on comment at the top of my blog.

Hilton Head Site of GAPB Meeting

Posted May 23, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, Federal Bail Bonds, Meeting Recaps, and Post Conviction Bonds  - 0 Comments

Hilton Head, SC - GAPB usually holds its spring meeting on St.SimonsIsland in Southeastern Georgia.  This year they opted to go across state lines to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and the Westin Hotel.  The turnout was respectable though I expected more bondsmen to be present in light of the recent enactment of House Bill 889.

 

Speaking of HB 889, Scott Hall, GAPB Legislative Chair, gave an extensive overview of the efforts which led to the successful passing of this pivotal piece of legislation.  Scott went into detail on how HB 889 will benefit all bondsmen operating in Georgia.   The language of HB 889 leaves nothing to the imagination, if an offender is arrested for a felony offense of anything from DUI to trafficking in cocaine they will be required to post a bail bond.  Only an elected magistrate has the authority to deviate from the bail restrictions and release a defendant on his or her own recognizance.  In doing so the magistrate must list the reasons for this exceptional release, for the record.

Much like the chewy center of a lollypop this bill had a hidden surprise.  While the language found in HB 889 specifically references that offenders charged with a felony offense shall not be released through an ROR, pretrial release, diversion programs or pretrial intervention, it also includes 10% deposit bail through the reference of Uniform Superior Court Rule 27. 

FultonCounty jail pretrial, only about one third were required to post a bail bond.

  

 

While the purpose of bail bond insurance is to insure a defendant’s appearance in court there is a financial penalty if a bail bondsman is unable to perform which serves as an incentive to complete the task.  Pretrial release and deposit bail are not subject to similar penalties or accountability.  With a, produce the defendant or pay the bond, environment, commercial bail is the only best option for reducing jail crowding, outstanding warrants and costs to taxpayers.

 

 

 

 

National Update

 

I was asked to speak by GAPB President Jarrod Skelton on bail related issues impacting the bail industry nationally.  Members seemed to be very interested in ongoing efforts to legislatively reinstate commercial bail to the State of Oregon.  The issue of credit card bail kiosks popping up all over the country was also a hot topic.  Owners of these credit card kiosks are operating as bail agents by allowing defendants to access cash on their credit card, for a fee, for the purposes of posting a full cash or percentage bond.

 

 

 

We also discussed efforts to pass post conviction bond legislation.  Post conviction bonds are designed to be an added condition on prisoners being granted early release.  In the event a parolee violates their parole the bondsmen is responsible to have the parolee in court to answer to the violation or risk a bond forfeiture.   

 

Post conviction bond legislation was enacted in South Dakota earlier this year and the California agents association is working diligently to get the same result in their state which is currently experiencing major prison overcrowding and budget problems.

 

 

 

 

GAPB to Dispatch Emissaries to Texas

 

During a membership meeting discussion on how to encourage more Georgia bondsmen to participate in the association I suggested GAPB send emissaries to other state association meetings to see what could be learned.  While they considered California, North Carolina and Oklahoma they settled on paying registration fees for up to five GAPB members who would like to attend the Annual Meeting of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas being held at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio this October.

   

 

While some GAPB members will be attending the PBT meeting in October, some PBT members may want to return the favor and attend GAPB’s annual meeting in Savannah.  That event will be held at Hyatt November 16 – 18 and also has a great turnout in a fantastic setting.

 

Calendar Note

The 21st Annual Steven G. Whitlock Memorial Golf Tournament will be held August 4, 2010 at the Woodhaven Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas in conjunction with the 3rd Quarter Meeting of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas.  All are welcome to attend or contribute to our efforts to raise money for kids battling cancer to attend CampEsperanza.

Click "comment" above if you would like to post a comment to this blog. 

 

PBT always has a great turnout at the year-ending meeting.  There will be much to gain by interacting with Texas bondsmen.  In turn, I’m sure PBT members would be very interested to hear about GAPB’s recent legislative successes and achievements.

 

 

 

County government will most certainly see an increase of revenue through the payment of bond forfeitures where a bondsman was unable to perform.  Taxpayers will certainly see a reduction in their tax dollars going to provide free bail to criminal defendants. 

 

 

While Georgia bondsmen will benefit from this new legislation, citizens and local governments will also benefit through a reduction in crime and outstanding failure to appear warrants due to more defendants being released from jail on a secured bail bond. 

Indiana Bail Agents Meet in Indy

Posted May 12, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA under Bail Bond Insurance, Commercial Bail, and Meeting Recaps  - 0 Comments

The Indiana Surety Bail Agents Association held its Spring General Membership meeting at the Hilton Hotel in Indianapolis on Tuesday.

 

Elections were held in accordance with the By-Laws and Tony Widgery was reelected as President of ISBAA.  Gary Logue replaced Linda Stamper as Treasurer while David Akers and Gary Good were elected to replace outgoing Area Directors, Kelly Bertholet and Dale Lanning.

 

Aaron Weese, a Virginia bondsmen and a representative of Virginians for the Preservation of Bail (now Americans for the Preservation of Bail) was the featured speaker.  Mr. Weese informed attendees on recent efforts to limit Pretrial Services of Virginia to only providing free bail to those offenders qualified as being of indigent status.  While their legislative effort did not succeed, this organization was successful in reducing the amount of money received from the state’s budget to fund their programs which will severely diminish their ability to continue operating.

 

 

ISBAA members were particularly interested in hearing about the successful legislative efforts of their association earlier this year.  Although 2010 was a short legislative session, the ISBAA Legislative Committee chaired by Les Sebring, along with a tremendous effort from association lobbyists Jim Purucker and Bart Giesler, were able to pass SB 340.  This legislation will improve commercial bail in Indiana in several ways:

1.       A bail bond will expire 36 months after execution unless the bond has been forfeited and the court had given the bail and surety written legal notice within thirty days of the defendant’s failure to appear.  Indiana courts will no longer be able to forfeit a bond several years after a failure to appear;

2.       The court must now give the bail agent and surety 72 hours advance written notice of a trial date or a plea hearing;

3.       Authorities refusing to extradite a defendant are now a defense to entry of judgment on forfeiture.

 

ISBAA has made a consistent effort to pass legislation that would require the use of a bail bond by offenders charged with certain felony offenses.  ISBAA members were encouraged by the news that the Georgia Association of Professional Bondsmen, earlier this year, passed HB 889 which sets bail restrictions on a number of felony offenses.  Energized by the efforts of GAPB, the ISBAA Legislative Committee will be meeting soon to discuss a legislative strategy for 2011 in hopes of enjoying similar success next year.

Speaking of GAPB, I will be attending their spring meeting next week on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.  I hope to see you there.

Click "comment" above if you would like to post a comment to this blog.

Ballot Initiative in Colorado to Limit Free Release

Posted April 11, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, and Legislation  - 0 Comments

I was in Denver last Friday to attend a brief, though not insignificant, hearing in the basement of the Colorado State Capitol.  The hearing, which lasted no more than 15 minutes was a procedural step in moving forward a ballot initiative that would require the posting of a secured bail bond for all crimes other than a first offense, non violent felonies or misdemeanors.

The ballot initiative is being put forth by an organization called Safe Streets Colorado.   In order to get an initiative on the ballot for the upcoming November election, Safe Streets Colorado must obtain 5% of the voter turnout in the most recent election held for the Secretary of State.  In this case, 5% equals 76,000.

There are significant costs involved with a ballot initiative.  They will need a website and the production and advertising costs for print, TV and radio spots.  The projected need is between $800,000 and $1.4 million in contributions in order to get this initiative placed on the ballot.

Safe Streets Colorado, whose website is scheduled to go up April 12th, plans to launch a $15 donation campaign so all citizens of Colorado can afford to participate in an effort designed to protect their neighborhoods and streets from criminal offenders released pretrial without a secured bond.

Bail bonds agents in Colorado and around the country should pay attention to this effort and make a contribution if you believe it is the right thing to do.

ASC-USI Launches New Website

Posted March 31, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, and Commercial Bail  - 2 Comments

Indianapolis, Indiana - Through the years American Surety Company and Underwriters Surety, Inc. (ASC-USI) has been vigilant in our efforts to keep not only our retail partners informed, but the bail industry at large. 

 

Our efforts began more than a decade ago when we launched the first version of www.ASC-USI.com in 1998.  Through the years www.asc-usi.com has been a proven resource to the commercial bail industry.  Our site has continued to provide the information and resource material to fight pretrial release, deposit bail and excessive OR releases, legislative updates, bail related case summaries and commentary on issues impacting bail agents.

It’s been more than ten years since we first took the bail industry by storm with our 26 page full color magazine that provided fair and balanced coverage of state and national association conferences, bail related case summaries, digital photos, legislative updates, conference schedules and editorials.  While there have been others who have copied our efforts, none have been able to duplicate the personal approach we take in keeping the bail industry informed.

In 2004 we began transitioning from a printed magazine to disseminating information electronically.  As the first company in the industry to do this, we were able to notify thousands of bail agents of news and alerts in a fraction of the time it took previously.  Once again ASC-USI was revolutionary in its efforts to keep bail agents informed.

During the development of our new site our goal was to improve upon existing features while adding functionality.   Where our old site simply provided a list of bail related case law, our new site allows you to search our database using key search words.  You can also search our article archives by topic.  We have created state specific pages that provide forms, legislation and case law for a particular state all on one page.  Set your preferred state in your preferences when you login. 

With our new site we’ve added video agent testimonials and video FAQ’s for new agent inquiries.  You will now have the opportunity to make your comments known in response to Where in the World is Mike Whitlock articles.  Post your thoughts when you agree or disagree with my positions.

ASC-USI is motivated by the desire to preserve and protect the commercial bail industry. We sleep well knowing we are doing our part to arm bail agents with knowledge and insight on how to preserve and protect the centuries old profession of commercial bail bonds. 

Please visit our new site and create a login and password which will provide full access to all ASC-USI.com has to offer.   There are no fees or conditions to subscription.  We would love to hear your initial impressions and any suggestion you may have for continued improvement of www.ASC-USI.com.

Round One Goes to VA Bail Agents, Taxpayers

Posted January 27, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Mike Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, and Legislation  - 0 Comments

We have been keeping you informed, through our American Surety Company Legislative Update, about the ongoing efforts of Virginians for the Preservation of Bail (VPOB) to bring about reform of taxpayer funded Pretrial Services in the Commonwealth.   VPOB introduced H.B. 728 which would require an offender to be brought before a judge and determined to be indigent before they can be released through a pretrial service agency.

I traveled to Richmond, Virginia this past Tuesday to attend the first hearing on H.B. 728.  A number of bail agents, both surety and property writers, met outside the General Assembly Building adjacent to the Capitol Building to show their support for H.B. 728.

Virginiabail


Supporters waited several hours before H.B. 728 was finally brought before the House of Delegates Subcommittee for Courts of Justice.   Delegate Dave Albo, the Committee Chair is the sponsor of H.B. 728.  After hearing testimony from supporters and opponents of the bill, H.B. 728 was passed out of committee on a 5-2 vote.  A second bill, H.B. 1255, would allow a licensed bail bondsman to purchase a copy of criminal history records, was also passed out of subcommittee.

Both H.B. 728 and H.B. 1255 will now be brought before the Full Committee for Courts of Justice today, Wednesday, January 27, in the General Assembly Building in Richmond.     A large number of bondsmen will be on hand to support this critical legislation.  Thank you to all the Virginia bondsmen and the VPOB, in particular, for their efforts in working to correct the overfunded and ineffective pretrial release services in Virginia.

Commercial Bail The Answer to Philly's Broken Bail System

Posted January 20, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Mike Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, and Commercial Bail  - 0 Comments

Philadelphia, PA – Yesterday, Senator Arlen Specter held a hearing at the National Constitution Center entitled "Exploring Federal Solutions to the State and Local Fugitive Crises."

Philadelphia, the Nation’s sixth largest city with a population of more than 1.6 million and more than 40,000 outstanding warrants for failure to appear, is the logical site for a hearing on fugitives.  I was present for the hearing along with Cheryl Burns of Bail USA and Terry Allen of the Federal Strategy Group.  ABC has been working with Terry Allen on matters related to commercial bail at the federal level.

Philadelphia has been in a state of flux after a recent series of articles appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer addressing, in part, that city’s broken bail bond system and the failure to collect more than one billion in forfeited deposit bonds dating back to 1968. 

Invited to speak at the hearing were Philadelphia District Attorney, Seth Williams; Clerk of Quarter Sessions, Vivian T. Miller; Acting U.S. Marshal for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, John Patrignani; Chief of Pretrial Services, Fifth Judicial District, David Preski and Executive Director of The American Bail Coalition (ABC), Dennis Bartlett.

Clerk of Quarter Sessions, Vivian T. Miller has been at the center of the storm and while she was invited to the hearing, she did not attend.  Her Second Deputy, Mark Gaillard testified on her behalf and read a prepared statement.  Mr. Gaillard disputed the one billion dollars in uncollected forfeited bail that has been widely reported, saying the number was closer to 250 million.  He argued that according to their records the court had uncollected forfeitures of 2.2 million in 2009 and so simple math would indicate it is not possible that the city could be owed more than one billion dollars.

As a member of the commercial bail industry, I took issue with their figure of 2.2 million.  D.A. Seth Williams testified to the annual issuance of 25,000 failure to appear warrants.  Assuming an average bond amount of $2500 the amount of forfeited bail in 2009 would have been $62,500,000.  If these defendants were released on secured bail bonds, then you can expect that 2% or $1,250,000 of the total forfeited bail would be paid to the county.  However, because Philadelphia releases almost every defendant on a 10% deposit (90% unsecured) bond to the court, with no financial guarantee of payment, Philadelphia would have failed to collect $30,000,000 in 2009 alone.

D.A. Williams’ solution to the problem was to hire more staff for the purpose of vetting bond guarantors in addition to hiring a collection firm to pursue payment of the unsecured 90% on forfeited bonds.  This would result in added costs to the tax payers for hiring additional staff and paying a minimum 30% to a collection firm.  D.A. Williams is clearly not thinking outside the bureaucratic box, opting instead to expanding the box and having an adverse impact on Philadelphians safety and pocket book.  

By using commercial bail, you increase revenue to the county and reduce fugitive warrants.  Commercial bail also restores a sense of security to the community.  Reinstating the use of commercial bail is the answer to Philadelphia’s fugitive problem.  ABC Executive Director Dennis Bartlett expertly testified to the advantages of commercial bail prompting Senator Specter to say, "..it may be time to take another look it (commercial bail)."

Bail Industry Proactive in 2010

Posted January 11, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Mike Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, and Commercial Bail  - 0 Comments

Multiple States Have Efforts Underway to Preserve Bail Profession 

The last year of the decade may prove to be a memorable one for commercial bail as bail agents and surety companies alike will be working together to protect and expand this honorable profession.  As a bail bonds agent, if you're not aware of what's happening in  your state then you're just not paying attention.  If you're currently not participating in protecting the bail industry in your state then you're doing yourself and your profession a disservice.  Make 2010 the year you make a difference.

Here is just a sample of what's happening across the country.

California
Credit card kiosks have made their way into several California jails causing much concern to bail agents.  As a result, the legality of placing credit cards kiosks in jails for the purposes of posting cash bail is being challenged.  Some sheriffs are said to be receiving a portion of each transaction fee and in return are allowing the kiosk to be placed on jail premises.  One of the primary concerns with these kiosks is the owner is operating as a bonding company by receiving compensation for facilitating the release of an offender from custody.  Bail agents are prohibited from soliciting and advertising on jail premises and most certainly are prohibited from sharing their premiums with an unlicensed bail agent, in this case, the sheriff.  These kiosks are popping up all over the country and can be found in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Washington and, of course, California.

Georgia
The Georgia Association of Professional Bondsmen (GAPB) will followup its successful legislative effort in 2009 by introducing legislation that would place bail restrictions on any offender charged with an aggravated offense.  If passed, these offenders would not be eligible for OR release or through pretrial release services.  Pretrial Services continues to expand their footprint in Fulton County and in doing so are breaching their mandate of supervising indigents by releasing repeat offenders and offenders charged with aggravated offenses.   

Missouri
The Missouri Department of Insurance just released The Final Report of the Missouri Bail Bond Study Committee on January 6, 2010.  H.B. 577, passed in 2009, required the Department of Insurance to conduct a study of its licensing rules and other policies governing the bail bond industry.  The Department subsequently held four public hearings on bail.  The recently issued report includes their recommendations for changes in the law.  At issue, in part, are prohibiting felons from obtaining a bail license, enhanced continuing education and centralizing consent for the approval of assets pledged by property bail agents.  The Missouri State Legislature is expected to consider these recommendations when drafting new legislation in the 2010 session.

Oregon
Work continues in Oregon to reinstate commercial bail after a nearly forty year absence.  Oregon is ready to attack their chronic failure to appear problem, outstanding warrants and address their image as being a safe haven for fugitives.

Pennsylvania
The Philadelphia Inquirer recently published a four part series on the fragile state of the criminal justice system in that city.  One of the components cited as a complete failure was the current bail system which is predominantly ten percent (ninety percent unsecured) to the court.  This series of articles is a followup to the investigate report the Inquirer ran in 2009.  In that article it was reported Philadelphia had lost more than one billion dollars in revenue due to the failure to collect the remaining ninety percent of forfeited deposit bonds.  A return to commercial bail would be the answer to this massive problem.  The result would be a reduction in failure to appear warrants, an increase percentage of closed criminal cases and revenue to the county on unresolved bond forfeitures.  Look for the Pennsylvania legislature to consider bail related legislation this session.

Philadelphia Inquire Articles:  Editorial, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

South Carolina
South Carolina is working on legislation that would increase the minimum deposit on a percentage bond from 10% to 25%, bail restrictions on violent offenders, post conviction bonds and fending off efforts to establish a taxpayer funded pretrial release program.

Virginia
Virginia bail agents are facing, head on, their state's, taxpayer funded, pretrial release program.   Virginians for the Preservation of Bail has been running radio spots drawing attention to how taxpayer money would be better spent employing more teachers and law enforcement officers as opposed to providing free release to criminal offenders.

Radio Spot - "Kids Against Pretrial" 

Washington
Bail agents in Washington are on the alert for any legislation impacting bail in that state as fallout stemming from the recent tragedy where an offender, released on bond, killed four Lakewood, WA police officers on November 29, 2009.  The bonding company, who posted the bond, was cleared by the Washington Department of Insurance of any neglect in that transaction.  The judge in that case came under fire for setting a relatively low bond on an offender with a lengthy criminal history, on parole from Arkansas. 

Remember, the time is now to participate in the preservation of this honorable profession, commercial bail.  Visit our website at www.ASC-USI.com or click on this link to view pending legislation for your state.  The Professional Bail Agents of the United States is holding it's annual conference next month in Las Vegas.  This would be a great opportunity to obtain more knowledge about your profession and learn more about what other states are doing to address challenges facing them in their market.  Click here to view conference details.

Make 2010 the year YOU make a difference.
 

Missouri Holds 4th Meeting on Bail Reform

Posted November 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, Legislation, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

  

   Jefferson City - The Missouri State Legislature passed legislation earlier this year, a 62 page bill (H.B. 577) which, in part required the Missouri Department of Insurance to "conduct a study regarding its licensing rules and other policies and procedures governing the bail bond industry".
   H.B. 577 suggested the Department of Insurance hold hearings and permit testimony from representatives of law enforcement, judiciary, bail agents and surety bail bond companies.  Four hearings were held with the last hearing held at the state capital on Tuesday, November 10.  I attended that hearing.
   Approximately 15 people sat on the panel hearing testimony, of which several were bail agents.  Testimony was largely given by bail agents writing on personal assets identified in 
Section 374.700 of the Missouri Revised Statutes as a Property Bail Bondsmen.
   The testimony from some of the property agents keyed on the low barrier of entry to becoming a General Bail Bond Agent in Missouri. Current statute allows licensed agents of two years or more to qualify as a General Bail Bond Agent upon deposit of $10,000 with the state.  Bail agents can only write through a licensed General Bail Bond Agent, whether on corporate surety or personal surety.
   Another issue raised was the qualification process for property writes.  There was testimony some courts were not properly vetting property bondsmen and were not sufficiently securing the assets (cash, real estate or personal property) by way of deed of trust or assignment and that assets listed on financial statements were not being verified.  Some courts have discontinued the qualification process all together due to a lack of resources.
   I was the only surety company representative to provide testimony at this hearing.  I recommended to the panel, if they intended to continue to allow for the writing of bail against personal assets, they should look to Texas and South Carolina which have refined their procedure and controls for writing bail using personal assets as collateral to a point where they are suffiicently indemnified.  Both states have corporate surety bail agents as well, providing comparable circumstances to those of Missouri.
   H.B. 577 requires the Department of Insurance to submit their recommendations to the house and senate insurance committees no later than January 6, 2010.

 


Next Up
   
I will attend the Fall Conference of the Georgia Association of Professional Bondsmen in Savannah on November 16 and 17.  Hope to see you there.

 

 

 

Texas Bondsmen Show Up in Droves

Posted October 28, 2009 at 12:00 AM by Mike Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, Commercial Bail, and Meeting Recaps  - 0 Comments

  

   For once, it would be nice to attend a meeting where we do not have to address recurring problems with abuse by pretrial release, attorneys writing bonds and credit card kiosks.  Alas, that was not to be the case at the year end membership meeting of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas held at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio.
   PBT, as always, is ever vigilante in its overview of the commercial bail bond industry in Texas.  There will always be one threat or another to public safety by those who would try to eliminate the 100% guarantee that bail bond insurance provides to ensure a defendant appears in court to answer to the crime for which they have been charged.
   In addition to PBT's association with charitable causes, it also works to improve the professionalism and level of education of the bondsmen in the Lone Star State.  I believe this is why their quarterly meetings are so well attended and supported by membership.
   At this meeting, PBT President John McCluskey was reelected to his post and will serve another term.  As is customary, at the year end meeting, awards were presented to individuals who went above and beyond in their support of the association during the previous year.  Scott Walstad of Dallas was awarded the Professional Bondsman of the Year, for his hard work and leadership as Legislative Committee Chair in the successful effort to derail percentage bond legislation.  Also receiving awards were Representative Allen Fletcher who received the Legislative Friend of PBT award and Nancy Reese who received the Friend of PBT award.
   Two board members were elected, Ken Good and Alicia Davis. Bill Pastor was appointed to complete the term of Roger Moore, who resigned his post.
   The Texas legislature is out of session in 2010, so PBT will be working hard to develop a legislative agenda for 2011.  Congratulations to PBT for fighting the good fight in 2009!

Next Up
The Georgia Association of Professional Bondsmen will hold their year end meeting in Savannah November 17-19.  Hope to see you there.

2009 Conference Much Ado About Something

Posted October 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM by Mike Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, Commercial Bail, Meeting Recaps, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

Where does one begin in a year that brings so many issues to the table?  CBAA celebrated its 30th annual convention at Harrah's Casino Resort in South Lake Tahoe October 11 - 13.  The turnout was good and everyone seemed to have something on their mind with respect to one issue or another impacting California bail bond agents.  
   Depending on where you operate in California, you could be dealing with any number of problems.  In northern California they're dealing with pretrial release, credit card kiosks and cities limiting the number of bonding companies around the jail.  In the southern part of the state they're dealing with excessive OR releases, large bond schedules and uncontrolled marketeers on the steps of the courthouse and jails.
CBAA and Golden State Combine Forces to Protect Industry
   
Perhaps it's the size of California, they have multiple baseball and football teams and the bail industry has two associations representing their interests.   The California Bail Agents Association and the Golden State Bail Agents Association held a joint meeting during this year's conference to discuss a variety of issues facing the bail industry.  This meeting was a continuation of the commitment they had made in Las Vegas in February to begin working together in the common interests of their respective members.
Credit Cards Charging Forward
   California is seeing the beginnings of a movement to introduce credit card kiosks to county jails.  At least one company, Government Payment Express (GovPay), has entered into agreements with sheriffs to place a kiosk in their jail which will provide several services, one of which is posting cash bail on a credit card.  According to an advertisement placed in the California Sheriffs Association newsletter, GovPay promises to pay the sheriff 15% of each processing.  Can anyone say payoff?  Rest assured this financial relationship is being looked into to determine if it's legal or ethical. 
Post Conviction Bond Still a Possibility
   California is about to release tens of thousands of prisoners upon the public.  With over 174,000 offenders in California state prisons (200% of capacity) and with a daily housing cost of $11 million, something has to be done.  A post conviction bond is just one option being considered to manage those offenders which must be released early due to prison crowding.  Mississippi has a post conviction bond in place while Michigan just passed its own version of this bond.  Assemblyman Curt Hagman continues to work with CBAA, GSBAA and surety companies to get a post conviction bond passed in California.
House Cleaning?
  Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich spoke to CBAA members and made assurances something would be done about the excessive marketing around jails deemed to be problems.  He reported that some arrests have been made for negotiating bail without a license.
What's next?
   Georgia, Michigan,Texas and South Carolina all have meetings scheduled over the next several weeks.  I will be attending the annual meeting of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas later this week in San Antonio.  I hope to see you there!

CBAA 2009 Annual Convention - Why You Sould Attend

Posted September 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM by Mike Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, Commercial Bail, and Meeting Recaps  - 0 Comments

   There may not have been a time in the last thirty years where there has been so much focus on what the government has done and continues to do to impact the lives of everyday citizens and business owners.  Between health care and stimulus bills they have captured our complete attention and in some cases, our ire.
   The commercial bail industry has been impacted by this economy as much or more than any other profession.  Even though crime is up, people don't have the money for bail and more and more offenders are either being released OR or site released.

   Assemblyman Curt Hagman, of the 60th District and license bail agent, has been working very hard to make a post conviction bond a condition of any legislative remedy to reduce prison crowding.  Assemblymen Hagman has also met with several sheriffs to discuss reducing ORs and site releases in addition to speaking to judges about reducing the bond scheduled to make it possible for offenders to post bond.
   A recent development in California is the introduction of credit card vendors processing cash bonds at the jails.  While this is new to the West Coast, these vendors have been operating in the Midwest for many years.  The concern about credit card vendors is they are operating as a bail agent, charge a fee for posting a cash bond without a bail license and advertising in the jail, violating solicitation laws.
   The California Bail Bond Agents Association is holding it's 30th Annual Convention in South Lake Tahoe October 11-13.  The convention will once again be held at the Harrah's Casino Resort.  There have never been more reasons to attend this annual convention.  Remember, prison overcrowding, site releases, OR, large bond schedules and credit card vendors continue to have adverse impact on your bottom line.  No less concern is the harm these problems pose to the personal safety of the citizens of California.  Visit www.cbaa.com for more information about this year's convention.  I hope to see you there.

 California Post Conviction Bond Effort

   Californians are acutely aware of the woes that lay in the path to recovery.  With a huge budget shortfall, massive prison overcrowding and county sheriffs' leasing bed space to generate revenue.  These problems, which require solutions, have a direct impact on public safety and commercial bail.
   Jail crowding will result in the early release of prisoners from state prison over the next next several months.  A number of Sheriffs have increased OR and site releases in order to make room in their jails, which they then turn around and lease to the FEDS to house federal inmates and illegals aliens awaiting deportation..
   An effort has been underway to introduce a post conviction bond as a condition of early release from prison.  A post conviction bond would help reduce the recidivism rate and create an entirely new market for commercial bail.


A Piece of Fiction

 

 


Remembering Rich Martin

Richard Martin owner of Otay Mesa Bail Bonds in Santee died unexpectedly this past July.  Richard had been a licensed bail agent since 1992.  He was affiliated with Calvin Minard as an agent before signing on with American Surety Company directly in 2005.  Richard was well thought of in the bonding community and by the many patrons of his local tavern.  Richard was known for writing quality bail and being a true professional.

 


Please Support Assemblyman Hagman 

Assemblyman Hagman represents the 60th District.  He is also a voice for commercial bail agents throughout the State of California.  There is only a brief window of time commercial bail will have Curt Hagman in Sacramento speaking intelligently about how commercial bail intersects with public safety.  He deserves the support of all bail agents writing in California.

 

Curt is willing to speak with your local judges and sheriffs on issues of bail, bond schedules, site releases and ORs.  Contact his office directly at 909.627.7021 and speak with Curt's Senior Assistant Victoria Stewart.  Curt will be a guest speaker at the CBAA Annual Convention in South Lake Tahoe.

 

Curt has made quick inroads during his short time in Sacramento.

 

  • Republican Floor Leader
  • Committee Membership
  • Public Safety - Vice Chair
  • Aging and Long Term Care
  • Joint Legislative Audit
  • Accountability and Administrative Review
  • Select Committee on Ports
  • Select Committee on Aerospace
  • Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture

 

The National Association of Pretrial Services (NAPSA) recently released a document they call The Truth About Commercial Bail Bonding in America.  This document is rife with inaccuracies, half truths and demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of the critical role the commercial bail industry plays in the criminal justice system, impacting public safety and reducing costs to tax payers.


NAPSA Document

To Fax or Not to Fax (Bail Bonds)

Posted June 15, 2009 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, Faxing Bonds, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

We text, we Tweet, we email, we bank online, so why not fax bonds to the jail?  The ability to fax a bail bond to a jail can be convenient for both the bail agent and the jail staff.  Doing so could save hundreds of hours avoiding long lines and a lot of money on gas and parking fees from making fewer trips to the jail.  There is also the added benefit of expediting offenders through the system, which has had some impact on jail crowding.  However, faxing bonds without proper controls in place against fraud can be a nightmare for consumers, courts and surety companies.

Who’s Faxing Who?
The bail industry has seen little progress with the acceptance of faxed bonds by the jails.  I’m sure it does occur in remote areas like Wyoming, Montana and the odd jail.  In those cases a bond is faxed in advance to obtain the release of a defendant from jail followed by mailing the original bond (and power) to the court the next business day.  For the past several years at least three markets have allowed for the faxing of bonds. Dallas County, Texas has a sound procedure in placed followed by Tarrant County which is less so.  Then there is Utah which allows faxing but with almost no security controls.
 
In the case of Dallas County, the current procedure allows a licensed bail agent to post a bond via fax for a $10, per bond, cost reimbursement fee to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office.  To qualify, the bail bond agent must first obtain written consent from their corporate surety to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office before bonds can be faxed.  An escrow account is created to cover the $10 fee and the posting fee ($15 for the first bond with a maximum of $30 per defendant).  As a means of control, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, on a monthly basis, will provide each surety company with a copy of each faxed bond posted by their agent(s) during the preceding month.  By receiving copies of all bonds posted, each surety company can then reconcile the documentation received from the sheriff’s office with the bonds reported by their agents to ensure bond amounts match and powers are not being used more than once and executed powers are not being submitted as void.
Tarrant County, Texas allows for the faxing of bonds though there are no controls in place other than sending from a specific fax number on file with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office for each bonding company.  Texas bail bonds statute requires each court notify the surety companies designated agent for service of process of all bond forfeitures. This requirement provides at least some means of catching an agent who may be duplicating powers.
 
Both Dallas and Tarrant Counties require bonds to be faxed directly to the county sheriff’s office for processing. In the case of Utah, our third market, bonds are faxed to several jails across several counties. The only control in place for faxing bonds in Utah is that the bond is faxed from an approved fax number. State law allows for the court to send notice directly to the bail agent eliminating the one life preserver offered in Tarrant County. The Utah system clearly has insufficient controls in place to prevent fraud.
 
Legitimate Concerns
The primary concern with faxing a bond is the potential for a numbered power of attorney to be used more than once with the intent to cheat the surety company out of premium on the duplicated bonds.
 
Last Fall American Surety Company discovered, almost by accident, one of its agents in Utah had been duplicating powers over a period of 18 months using the existing faxed bond procedure. The result was this agent was able to systematically and fraudulently avoid paying premium to American Surety to the tune of several thousand dollars.  How he did it was fairly simple.  One or more copies would be made of the original power of attorney before the agent would post multiple bonds at different jails obtaining the release of several defendants with the same power of attorney.  Utah has no meaningful procedure in place to prevent this type of fraud.  It was for this reason American Surety Company requested and was granted time by the Utah Bail Bond Surety Oversight Board to address the lack of controls in the existing faxed bond process at their May meeting.
 
The Bail Bond Surety Oversight Board was created by Utah Statute 31A-35-201 and operates within the Utah Department of Insurance.  The Board is comprised of representatives from four licensed bail bond surety companies (Utah statute provides that a personal surety bail agent is also defined as a surety company), two members of the general public, an attorney and a nonvoting member from the insurance department staff.   Board members serve four year terms and are limited to two terms.
  
Our goal, at this meeting, was to bring awareness to the BBSOB on the failings of the existing procedure for faxing bonds and request changes be made to prevent fraud from occurring, not only upon the surety but the State of Utah and the consumer.  At present the only procedure in place is one that requires the bail agent to fax their bond from an approved fax number. That’s it.  The bail agent is not required to mail the original bond to the jail or court and the jail does not provide a copy of the power to the surety company for reconciliation purposes.  Nor does the jail require written authorization from the bail agent’s surety company to fax bonds.  The jail simply does not have the ability to determine whether or not a power has been duplicated. 
 
The Board members listened politely and asked questions, though it was quickly clear they were not willing to recommend implementing new controls for fear the jail may resist and possibly decide to abandon the faxed bond process. It appears convenience, not caution, will continue to carry the day in Utah.
 
The Verdict
I’m in favor of convenience as much as the next guy. You know how you now have to enter your zip code when you use your credit card at the gas pump? Well, someone along the way decided that this control was needed to prevent the fraudulent use of someone’s credit card. Faxing bonds is no less subject to fraud. This process can work if the proper controls are put in place to ensure the parties involved in the process, consumers, courts, surety companies, etc., are not being defrauded by an unscrupulous bail agent. I’m hopeful markets like Tarrant County, Texas and Utah will give further consideration to implementing basic controls to ensure a more secured process that is also convenient to the parties involved. Let us continue to make improvements within the bail industry that are both thoughtful and productive.

Making the Case for a Post Conviction Bond

Posted June 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, Commercial Bail, and Post Conviction Bonds  - 0 Comments

California is giving serious consideration to approving the use of a post conviction bond in those cases of prisoners being released early as an effort to ease prison overcrowding.  California is experiencing historic budget short falls and reducing the costs of running their prison system is just one area being targeted for funding cuts.  Governor Swartzennegger has already spoke of the need to release as many as 55,000 convicted felons prison early which has sent shivers through the spines of the that state's citizenry.  What is a post conviction bond and how can it use effectively reduce prison crowding?

A Concept Originating From Bail Bonds
According to a 2007 study released by the U.S. Department of Justice - Bureau of Justice Statistics title Pretrial Release of Felony Defendants in State Courts, the commercial bail bond industry is the most effective in ensuring a defendant appears in court.  The study further shows that a defendant is less likely to commit another crime while released on a bail bond pending trial.

Bail bonds are effective because the obligor (the insurance company) is 100% responsible for the defendant’s appearance in court until their case is adjudicated.  If the defendant fails to appear for court the bail agent must locate and return the defendant to the custody of the court or risk a financial penalty equal to the amount of the bail bond.

Bail bond agents minimize their risk by securing the bond, much like a bank would secure a loan, with real estate or cash pledged by third parties (spouse, employer, parents, friends, etc.) who are willing to become financially responsible for the defendant appearing in court.  This process is successful because between the bail agent and the bond indemnitors a net of supervision over the defendant is created with all parties having a financial interest in the defendant appearing in court.  The same concept can be applied to supervising a prisoner released from prison on parole and charged with complying with conditions of their parole.

Recidivism Rate Among Parolees
A 1994 Study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics titled Reentry Trends in the U.S. tracked 272,111 prisoners released from prison in 15 states.  The study found that within this group of parolees 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years.  The 1994 study also showed that 51.8% of these prisoners were back in prison either because of a new crime for which they received another prison sentence or because of a technical violation of their parole.

Post Conviction Bonds
The same principles for securing a defendant’s release pretrial through a bail agent can be applied to a post conviction situation where a convicted felon is being released early from prison.  The bail agent does not replace the parole officer but rather makes their job easier by providing an environment by which the parole officer and parolee are not the only parties involved with their release.

The net of supervision and financial responsibility brought about in a defendant’s pretrial release through a bail agent would also apply to convicted felons seeking a release from prison early whether through their own efforts or a need by the state to relieve overcrowding.  Several people would be financially responsible for the parolee complying with the terms of his/her parole.

If a parolee released through a Post Conviction Bond should fail to comply with any or all of the terms of his/her parole, the court will order the bond forfeited and issue a warrant for the parolee’s arrest.  The bail agent then has a specific period of time in which to locate, apprehend and return the defendant to the custody of the court.  In the event the bail agent is unable to return the defendant to the custody of the court, a financial penalty equal to the full amount of the bond would have to be paid to the court.

Goal of a Post Conviction Bond
The need for a method of ensuring a parolee’s compliance with the terms of the parole is simple.  Once they are released from incarceration the goal is not to go back to prison.  One way to not return to prison is to remain crime free and comply with the terms of their parole.  Whereas the 2007 BJS Study showed that defendants released pretrial were less likely to commit another crime while out on a bail bond, we believe the same will apply to prisoners released early on parole.  By making third parties financially responsible for seeing that a parolee successfully completes the terms of the parole, it not only saves the tax payers money through the easing of the prison population, but perhaps more importantly it creates a safer environment for the public when parolees are released back into society in a more secure fashion.

California bail bonds industry is in need of solutions to a very real problem; prison overcrowding.  A Post Conviction Bond is not the only solution but one of many that should be considered.  If made available, the use of a Post Conviction Bond would have a direct impact on reducing the number of parolees returning to prison for violating terms of their parole.  By reducing the recidivism rate among parolees you thereby reduce the problem and the costs associated with dealing with the problem.  Post Conviction Bonds can be effective and should be employed in California.