If You Want To Reform the Criminal Justice System Why Not Ask a Bondsman?

It is a Wednesday morning and I just finished reading another report, this time from Los Angeles County, providing bail reform recommendations to the LA County Supervisors. As usual, the report was full of the typical bail reform talking points and recommendations. The “next steps” portion of the report outlined best pretrial practices around the country (none of which involved bail). It did however involve the hiring of many high-priced consultants and attending lots of workshops with objective advocacy groups like the Pretrial Justice Institute and the Mac Arthur Foundation (two organizations that will surely provide a non-biased approach to their recommendations…NOT). The final recommendations…create a “robust” pretrial services agency to solve the problem. Of course, in order to do this you must first develop a pilot program (which doesn’t have a bail option), fund it with tax dollars, and then wait for the jails to magically empty and the criminals to be cured of their evil deeds.

It is at this point that I am really confused about these recommendations. Los Angeles County already has a pretrial services agency to handle the needs of the indigent and those with special circumstances. If there is a problem in the jails and there are too many indigent defendants sitting there, isn’t that an issue with the current pretrial system. If the bail industry, as they say, only helps people with money, and pretrial services is supposed to handle the indigent, then why is the bail industry being scrutinized for there being poor people in jail. It seems to me that the reform that needs to happen isn’t with bail, but rather with the current government funded pretrial services agencies that seem to be failing at their one goal…make sure that the indigent aren’t languishing away in jail for being poor.

That point aside, something else really bothers me about this report, and pretty much every other report that these bail reform advocates produce. At no time ever do these studies address or study the effectiveness of bail. At no time ever do these reports talk about their extensive interviews with actual bondsmen and what it is they do. All these reports do is plainly and unequivocally state without proof or evidence that bail agents are evil, greedy and the system is unfair. They assign all the ills of the criminal justice system to the bail industry all to justify their plans to eliminate it and replace it with their own system.

Maybe one day a researcher will have the insight and courage to approach bail reform in a more honest and effective manner. Maybe one day, someone will actually look at the problems in our criminal justice system in a way that actually solves them. Just saying that the bail industry is bad, that jails are crowded, and the system is unfair to the poor and people of color because of bail does nothing to solve the problem. Jails are crowded because people commit crimes. It is just that simple. If you want to lower the populations in the jails you have two options. Option 1: Recategorize the crimes people are committing and make them NOT crimes (Bail Reform’s Approach). Option 2: Find out why people are committing crimes in the first place and try to solve that problem. Based on these two options, which do you think is the best way to lower jail populations and keep the public safe?

If our legislators truly want to fix the criminal justice system, they need to involve all parties that have knowledge, insight and experience. Pointing the finger at the bail industry and saying that eliminating bail will solve all the problems, is not a real solution. It is an emotional and ideological argument that has no bearing on the reality of the system. Think about it, bail is the most common way people get out of jail. Let’s go and eliminate it…and what do you think happens. Either your jails fill up because no one can get out fast enough…or you let everyone out including the bad guys and hope that they show up for court and don’t hurt someone in the meantime. There really is no good outcome if you eliminate bail.

Does the system need reform? Absolutely. Do the indigent need special assistance from pretrial services? Yes, no bail agent will ever argue with that. Does eliminating the bail industry solve the problem? NO. It shouldn’t be so hard to reform the criminal justice system in a way that keeps our communities safe while balancing the rights and safety of both the accused and the victim. It really isn’t rocket science. Is the bail system perfect? No it isn’t, but it does work as intended, and does a pretty good job. But then again, I didn’t have to do a lot of research around that question.. all I had to do was ask a bondsmen. Maybe our decision makers should do the same.

Eric Granof is the Vice President of Corporate Communications for AIA Surety.