Does private bail still hold a useful place in the criminal justice system? Veteran agent Joe Stiles releases a few thoughts…on their own recognizance.
In a world grown smaller through advances in technology, communication, and transportation, can the private sector offer a better service to the criminal justice system than a government entity can?
I freely admit to a partiality toward private bail, as I have worked in the bonding industry for many years. So, is it possible for me to be objective when making an argument for the bonding industry? I’ll give it a try.
The first misconception I’d like to debunk is that the most important role of the bail agent is securing the release of an arrestee from custody.
While this is a common misconception, this mindset is more accurately reflected in other forms of release, such as cash bonds and recognizance releases. In both of these, little or no concern is given to the probability of appearance and is most often secured through financial means or judicial caprice.
In short, the bail agent’s most important role is to determine the likelihood that the defendant will appear in court and collect the financial resources to insure his appearance.
The Bail Bond Release
When a defendant is released on a bail bond, he has essentially chosen his own personal jailor.
The defendant pays for the privilege of enjoying an extended area of confinement, but he is in fact released into the custody of the bail bond company. Many companies have some way to monitor their clients. These vary according to the company and range from weekly call-ins to random home visits.
If a defendant misses too many check-ins, moves from his listed address, or continues to commit criminal acts, his bond can be revoked, and he can be returned to jail. If the defendant fails to appear in court, then the bonding company will be issued a forfeiture of bond. The agent must find the defendant and return him to custody, or the bonding company will most likely have to pay the full amount of the bond.
All of the costs of these actions will be the responsibility of the bonding company…and none will be borne by the taxpayer.
The Cash or Recognizance Bond Release
When a person is released on a cash or recognizance bond, he essentially becomes his own jailor.
There is no one to supervise him but himself. If he fails to appear in court, a warrant will can be issued for his arrest, but in the case off the recognizance bond, he will suffer no other recriminations nor punishments. And in the case of a cash bond, he will lose only the money he has paid.
In either case, there will be no one looking for him who has a vested interest in his recapture, and he may well never have to answer for his charges. If the charges are misdemeanors and he has fled to another state, there’s minimal likelihood that he will ever be prosecuted.
The Pre-Trial Release
When a person is released by a government agency, such as via a pre-trial release, there is usually a salaried government employee responsible for monitoring the defendant’s release from custody. This employee usually has a very large caseload and little or no authority to enforce any of the provisions of the release.
In most cases, if a defendant fails to comply with the conditions of release, the only option at the pre-trial agent’s disposal is to petition the court to have the defendant re-arrested by law enforcement. This ties up resources for both agencies and usually results in the defendant being arrested only if he commits another offense or serendipitously comes into contact with another law enforcement agency.
If the defendant is in custody in another jurisdiction, the costs of transporting the defendant must be paid by the demanding agency.
By looking at the most common methods of release, it seems pretty clear that the most cost-effective method is release on private-secured surety. The defendant pays for the cost of his release, and the bonding company assumes the liability of ensuring that the defendant appears in court, returning the defendant to custody, or paying the entire amount of the bond.
In this case, there’s no cost to the taxpayer; and at a time when every level of government is working to cut costs and maximize benefits, the bail bondsman plays both a historic and essential role in the smooth operation of the criminal justice system.