I was in Sacramento earlier this week where I joined ABC’s Policy Director Jeff Clayton and California lobbyist Katherine Brandenburg in meeting with state officials and legislative staff at the State Capital. At issued was yet another legislative proposal targeting the commercial bail industry. Assembly Bill 2449, is a bill that would have added a $10 fee to each bail bond in favor of a bail investigation and prosecution fund controlled by the California Department of Insurance. The language in this bill also included a significant increase in license related fees for bail agents. Fortunately, this taxation bill was left wanting for support among California legislators and it was withdrawn by its sponsor, Assemblywoman Susan Eggman.
During one of the many conversations we had at the state house we learned Los Angeles County had more than one million open warrants. While that may be news to some it is not news to those of us in bail industry. Open warrants have been the proverbial elephant in hearing rooms across the nation when discussing matters of criminal justice reform. It’s as if they are targeting bail as an area of reform in order to distract everyone from the real problem, a massive failure to appear epidemic for offenders released on promises to appear, 10% cash deposit bail and through toothless taxpayer funded pretrial release programs.
It is well known in my home state of Indiana, offenders released on the dominant 90% percent discounted bail (10% cash to the court) option fail to appear for court in record numbers. Some counties have ceased making their outstanding warrants public because of the embarrassing numbers. Indiana courts have become so reliable on the forfeited cash deposits that failures to appear are just a means to an end, the end being generating millions in revenue.
Then there is Nevada where I have previously reported the manager of the Clark County (Las Vegas) pretrial release program recently informed a Nevada Supreme Court study committee on criminal justice reform, more than 50% of offenders released through their program violated their conditions of release, the most important of which is to appear in court.
Proponents of public pretrial release programs and 10% cash bail routinely hold up Illinois, Kentucky and Oregon as utopian models of non-commercial bail pretrial release options. In 2009 I had participated in a study committee in Oregon that included representatives from all stakeholders within that state’s criminal justice system. It was freely mentioned during those hearings 30% of offenders released on 10% cash bail and monitored by public pretrial release failed to appear for court. Oregon has been using this system for decades as has Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin. The outstanding warrants in these states must be in the millions. Oregon actually adjusted their staffing through time to account for the 30% of defendants who were not showing for court. I recall one clerk of court being genuinely concerned that if bail bonds were to be required their staff would be overwhelmed due to the anticipated reduction in failures to appear.
So, as the adversaries to commercial bail push their bail reform agenda across the country keep in mind it’s a trick, a slight of hand, to distract the general public and media from the millions of offenders who are released from jail everyday on unsecured or under-secured bail who fail to appear for court. That is a policy catastrophe opponents of bail prefer to keep in the closet.