Memphis Bail Bond Blues

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 Battle2Mildred 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.

Jr Henderson With Mike

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.