Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Bail-bond firms fight efforts to abolish or reform cash bail

More than 25 states have passed laws or enacted changes to reform the practice of bail bonding, but a CNN review of all 50 states and Washington, D.C., "found that the powerful industry has derailed, stalled or killed reform efforts in at least nine states, which combined cover more than one third of the country's population," Collette Richards and Drew Griffin report.

The issue disproportionately affects the poor, who often can't make bail and must pay bond companies (typically 10 percent of the bail) to get out of jail. Those who can't bond out are stuck in jail, contributing to the overcrowding that's especially pronounced in rural and county jails. The numbers of people awaiting trial far outnumber people serving sentences, CNN reports.

"Reform efforts across the country seek to make the bail system less burdensome on the poor. The majority of states addressing the issue are trying to make money bail the last resort, by mandating that judges apply the 'least onerous release conditions possible' and consider the defendant's ability to pay, as well as eliminating money bail for low-level charges," Richards and Griffin report. "As a result, the $2-billion-a-year bail bonds industry is in a fight for its very survival."

Lawmakers have described the bail industry's involvement in even modest reform efforts as "nasty and contentious," CNN reports. However, Jeff Clayton, the executive director of the American Bail Coalition, said the whole process is fraught and that the bond industry has been unfairly called predatory. He told CNN that people have the right to use bail-bond services, and said that while the ABC has participated in discussions about bail policy reform and has had a significant impact he doesn't believe they were the "driving force" behind any bill's success or failure.

The bail bond industry sometimes continues the fight even after a reform passes. "Last year, California lawmakers passed the most far-reaching legislation yet—ending cash bail altogether," Richards and Griffin report. "But shortly after the passage of that law, the bail bond industry, and the insurance companies that underwrite their bonds, raised more than $3 million to fund a ballot referendum that put everything on hold. The effort was successful, and voters will decide the issue on the November 2020 ballot."

Most politicians pursue bail bond reform because of the consequences the practice has on the poor and on their communities. Those who can't afford to make bail often lose their job, which can jeopardize housing and food for their families, CNN reports. Though it can take years to assess the effects of reforms, bail bond overhauls have been shown to reduce recidivism rates and ensure that people show up for their court dates, according to studies of several counties.

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