By Michael Whitlock
I spent a few days at our nation’s capital this week in my capacity as a member of the American Bail Coalition Legislative Committee. The bail industry is largely regulated by the states though some bail is still written at the federal level and federal regulation can indirectly impact bail policies at the state level. We met with both congressmen and senators to discuss these important issues.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics released a study in 2007, providing data gathered from the 75 largest counties in the country for the purpose of determining the effectiveness of various forms of pretrial release. The BJS study concluded secured bail be it full cash or surety were most effective. It was also a useful tool to drive home the point bail bonds play a vital role in ensuring defendants appear for court.
The “cash bail” debate has been at the forefront of national news for the last several years. New York’s Governor Hochel has held up discussing elements of the budget until bail reform issues have been resolved. One frustrated legislator said, “bail reform is taking up all the oxygen in the room”. No profession wants to be on the front page of newspapers or lead the evening news as bail bonds have for the past many years but it is what it is. One must defend one’s turf.
As an industry we have learned all policy makers, state and federal, need to be informed and educated about the efficacy of bail bonds and the pitfalls of overreaching criminal justice reform policies aimed at reducing their use. Criminal justice reform efforts should not be solely centered on bail bonds but must include due process, enforcing laws, speedy trials, and the over-reliance of ankle monitors. Criminal cases in most states are taking more than a year to come to trial which places even more pressure on monitoring defendants released from jail pretrial.
Making a trip to Washington D.C. may take time from my day job (managing bail agent contracts) but it must be done if we, as a profession and industry, are to protect and preserve the constitutional right to bail.