It was a seven-day travel week during which I attended annual bail agent conferences in California and Texas. The serenity of the South Lake Tahoe meeting site belies what lays ahead for the bail industry in The Golden State’s upcoming legislative year. The adverse impact of AB 109 and Prop. 47 have not slowed the insatiable appetite to make an easier path for criminal offenders. Prop. 57 will be considered by California voters November 8. This ballot measure, if passed, will pave the way to releasing as many as 30,000 convicted felons from state prisons. Additionally, state legislators have made it clear, reforming California’s bail system will be a priority in 2017.
Coming off a fallow season in 2016 the Texas state legislature will resume their work in January. The table is set for introducing legislation that would propose expanding pretrial supervision with little regard for the enormous cost that would be placed at the feet of taxpayers. You have to question the logic of supplanting a private section bail option which costs the taxpayers nothing with a government program that will cost Texans millions annually.
While at the PBT meeting in San Antonio, I participated in a panel discussion that included Rep. Terry Canalas, Comal County Sherriff Mark Reynolds, Mike Lozito, Bexar County Pre-trial Director and Houston bondsman John McClusky. We discussed ways to reduce crowding in county jails. The suggestions included embracing technology by posting bonds via e-filing (already in use in El Paso and Tyler), expediting the release of defendants upon posting of their bond (currently releases can take up to 12 hours) and, streamlining the bonding process by allowing arrestees to make arrangements for bail soon after booking. The process should include free calls to bonding companies and criminal attorneys. Most jails currently charge exorbitant fees for collect calls which frustrate the process.
There are roughly 5500 bail agents operating in the 312 combined counties of California and Texas. These large states will be two of the key battleground states where bail reforms will be proposed in 2017. The American Bail Coalition, of which American Surety Company is a founding member, will be working with state bail agent associations to make sure the commercial bail industry is sufficiently represented and defended. All bail agents should be prepared to participate when called upon. While bail is protected by the U.S. Constitution, as we know the Constitution cannot defend itself.