Thursday, April 27, 2017

Following the Money - and the Legislation - on Bail

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted in favor of bail reform this on SB 1338 by a 7-0 vote.  A vote in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee is still pending on the companion bill, HB 3011.

The bondsmen are concerned about the future of their businesses.  As they testified at both the Senate and House hearings, their “bread and butter” comes from charging money to misdemeanants.  They understand that granting pretrial release to low-risk, non-violent individuals who are charged with misdemeanors means that they can no longer collect all the money that has supported their businesses.  From a public policy perspective, however, if people are low-risk in terms of appearing for court and non-violent, then the courts are not justified in extracting these payments.  As the industry reps testified, there are so few felons who can afford the bail amounts set.  They need the low-level people to pay money in order to keep their doors open.  Bail bondsmen and women are generally decent, small-business people, and this comes through at the hearings.

The big money in this industry is made by the out-of-state corporations that fund the Texas bail bond lobbying group, BailPAC.  Not surprisingly, the industry is ramping up the scary propaganda.   BailPAC has long provided hefty campaign contributions to certain legislators.

Think “State Farm”:  the bail bond shops we see near courthouses in every county are the mom-and-pop shops that sell a product for the big out-of-state corporations.  And this is the most lucrative type of insurance product sold.  Over the years the industry has lobbied successfully for favorable legislation.  Today, even when people don’t show for court, the law provides for generous grace periods and exceptions so that the insurance companies almost never have to pay the counties for the bond amounts that we would expect to be forfeited.

Most of the time, people who fail to appear for court  eventually show up later on their own or when they encounter a police officer who learns that there is an outstanding warrant for their failure to appear. In various ways, as long as a person at some point returns to court--by whatever means--the bail bond insurance company will not have to pay.  Bounty hunters are almost never used.

And even when the insurance companies are ordered to pay, only a percentage of those bond revocation judgments are actually paid, as shown in investigations by the Houston Chronicle ($26 million owed in 2010) and Dallas Morning News ($35 million owed in 2011).  In Waco, the DA in 2011 adopted a policy allowing bondsmen to pay just a portion of bond revocations.

The corporations that reap the rewards of Texas’ current bail laws are:
Meanwhile, Texas’ poorest and sickest people—not to mention county taxpayers—pay the price for a system that punishes people who can't afford bail money.  The pending legislation would modernize Texas bail laws to make release decisions based on the actual risks rather than a system that releases people based on ability to pay.

6 comments:

Kathleen Sullivan said...

The conditins of PR bond are more onerous than probation after conviction! And the infrastructure and staff for these programs are directly funded by taxpayers. Moreover, the staffing is done through either probation or enforcement. They are trained to treat people on bond as though they are convicted criminals, rather than merely accused, which presents some unpleasant presuppositions. Bondsmen treat releaees like customers--with respect and flexibility. The real solutions are signature bonds and lower cash bond amounts to respond to risk.

Anonymous said...

I say follow the money and you will find a lot of corruption. Enforce the Law, no one is above the Law.

Anonymous said...

Kathleen - The conditions of ANY bond are onerous ... not just PR bonds. The courts make NO distinction what type of release you are on -- there will be difficult and expensive conditions. But if we can keep people out of jail - they can work and take care of their families and not cost the money for their pretrial incarceration.
Plus, many times misdemeanants who may well be innocent or have a valid defense plead guilty so they can go home that day. They cannot afford bond at all. A PR bond will allow them to fight their case without losing everything they have.

DLW said...

There has to be another quick way for a person to get out of jail besides a bail bondsman. If a family member gets arrested on a Friday night and a "tough on crime" JP sets a high bond, the family can do two things. They can commit way too much money to a bondsman and get the loved one our quickly or they can wait until Monday and start the process to get a bond reduced. The majority will get the loved one out quickly even if it means spending money that could go towards effective representation. The County is then on the hook for a Court Appointed Lawyer because the available money went to a Bail Bondsman.

Drew Willey said...

http://www.houstonpress.com/news/federal-judge-says-harris-county-bail-system-is-unfair-to-poor-defendants-9397124

Anonymous said...

Anyone looked at the judges campaign contributions and their relationship to bondsmen?