Stokes Posts Bail
More accurately, the title of this entry should read, "Stokes Posts Blog Post About Bail Bondsmen," but titles should be quick and to the point, so I’m told. There is an article today in the Columbia Daily Tribune (link via John Combest) about a controversial bail posting in Boone County, which follows up on a New York Times article about the entire bail-bond industry last week. Taken together, they provide a very interesting look at a unique industry one that, to its eternal credit, has lent itself to many fine movies.
The controversy in the Boone County case involved several issues: The bonding agent lacked a license to work in Boone County (not a big deal, in my opinion); the bonding company itself did not have the assets to guarantee such a large bond (a very big deal, obviously); and the unusual structure through which the family of the accused agreed to pay the bonding company (I have no idea whether this is a big deal). To sum it up quickly, the court rejected the bond after the accused was released, and he was taken back into custody at a higher bond. Because the suspect is accused of a heinous crime murder I have no problem with the higher bond requirement.
The Times article focuses on the big scheme of things in the bonding world, and contains a number of quotes that could have been written by somebody at a free-market think tank. Here are a couple:
The system costs taxpayers nothing, [Professional Bail Agents of the United States spokesman Bill] Kreins said, and it is exceptionally effective at ensuring that defendants appear for court. […]
“Here’s what everybody forgets,” [bail bondsman Wayne Spath] said. “The taxpayers have to pay for these programs. Why should they pay for them? Why should they? When we can provide the same service for free.”
Sounds good to me. But this is the key question: Does the system work? From the article (emphasis added, for all quotations throughout this post):
According to the Justice Department and academic studies, the clients of commercial bail bond agencies are more likely to appear for court in the first place and more likely to be captured if they flee than those released under other forms of supervision.
Why does the system work?
That may be because bail bond companies have financial incentives and choose their clients carefully.
Wait a minute … are they saying that incentives work? There are, of course, critics of the industry:
“The bail bond system is rife with corruption,” said Joshua Marquis, the district attorney in Clatsop County, Ore. Since bond companies do not compete on price, they have every incentive to collude with lawyers, the police, jail
officials and even judges to make sure that bail is high and that
attractive clients are funneled to them.
Mr. Kreins, the industry spokesman, acknowledged scandals in Illinois, where “basically all the agents were in collusion with the judges,” and in Louisiana, where sheriffs were also in the mix.
The first part is a legitimate critique, if it’s true. While the amount of bail set should not be a matter of debate or competition, the fee percent charged by various bail bondsmen can certainly fluctuate, unless governments regulate that fee as part of the licensing requirements? If that is the reason agents don’t compete on price, it’s the regulation that should be gotten rid of not the industry. As for the second critique of corruption in Illinois and Louisiana, those two states have corruption even in the kindergarten industry, along with everything else. Corruption in those two states (plus Rhode Island) is a problem with the entire system, not just one industry.
Since the critique comes from Oregon, what does the article say has happened since Oregon banned the bail bond industry?
Mr. Marquis, the Oregon prosecutor, said doing away with commercial bonds had affected the justice system in a negative way as well. “The fact of the matter is,” he said, “that in states like Oregon the failure-to-appear rate has skyrocketed.”
What does the rest of the world do (except for the Philippines, which uses our system, certainly a leftover from colonialism)? Please trust that the inserted sarcastic comments in brackets below are mine, and were not in the original article:
Some simply keep defendants in jail until trial [oh, that’s a much better solution for someone who is poor and genuinely innocent]. Others ask defendants to promise to turn up for trial [’cause a criminal would’nt lie]. Some make failure to appear a separate crime [I am sure someone facing 20 years is very worried about the addition of a failure-to-appear charge]. Some impose strict conditions on release, like reporting to the police frequently [I can’t see any possible way around that, like stopping at the police station while on your way to the bus station]. Some make defendants liable for a given sum should they fail to appear but do not collect it up front [see above comment on separate crime]. Others require a deposit in cash from the defendant, family members or friends, which is returned when the defendant appears. [Because taking money from a poor family is preferable to taking it from a for-profit business? What the hell?]
There are very good, historical reasons why our system evolved as it did. The Times article is outstanding, and it goes through those reasons. But it only hints at the fact that our bail system like our overall criminal system is much more favorable than the systems in the rest of the world toward people accused, but not yet convicted, of a crime. The rights to counsel, the presumption of innocence, the bail system itself, and many more aspects are all indicative of a system that favors the rights of the people, until those rights are abrogated by a conviction in court not the other way around.
Plus, Charles Grodin was lying when he said he wasn’t able to fly. That part was funny.