There is a character in the book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, who dons a t-shirt with the slogan ARMAGEDDON WAS YESTERDAY – TODAY WE HAVE A SERIOUS PROBLEM. I laughed out loud knowing how germane this was to the state of the commercial bail industry.
I vividly recall participating in a panel discussion at the 2006 PBUS Winter Conference, it was the year Dog and Beth Chapman made their first appearance. During this discussion I spoke about the expanding use of deposit bail and its threat to the commercial bail industry.
Dave Stuckman of Kansas receives certfificate for sponsorship.
It was my opinion then as now deposit bail is a greater threat to the commercial bail industry than taxpayer funded pretrial service agencies. Why? Because where public funded pretrial release requires funding for staffing and significant overhead, deposit bail requires only a receipt book and someone to collect the cash.
Deposit bail relies largely on 1) smoke and mirror tactics, a bond reported to be set at $100,000 is actually a $10,000 cash bond with 90% unsecured; 2) uninformed taxpayers, people tend to believe what public officials tell them because they’re unfamiliar with the process; and 3) hollow justifications, a defendant is more likely to appear in court if they know they will get their bail deposit returned.
Since that 2006 meeting in Las Vegas, we have seen an expansion of the use of deposit bail in Indiana, Ohio, South Carolina, Washington and many other states. The commercial bail industry had to mount huge efforts to defeat deposit bail legislation in Colorado and Texas. Both battles were won but only after spending a significant amount of money and investing a considerable amount time.
Counties who have switched to deposit bail immediately lose all perspective after seeing the revenue stream of cash bail. Deposit bail is like a drug to these counties, once the court begins using, we quickly see the effects of abuse. Public officials start to dismiss the failure to appear rate as a nonissue, ‘these absconders will be picked up on a traffic stop’, ignore mounting unresolved cases, ‘we don’t have the staff anyway to handle all these cases’ and promote the new revenue, ‘how can the taxpayers not be happy about all the money deposit bail is raising for the county?’
What they don’t want to talk about is the huge increase of failure to appear warrants, the disenfranchisement of victims of crime and significant expense associated with a defendant’s failure to appear and the cost of county staffers preparing for these hearings.
The use of deposit bail continues to be a threat to public safety and commercial bail and must be derailed. As the t-shirt says, ARMAGEDDON WAS YESTERDAY – TODAY WE HAVE A SERIOUS PROBLEM.