There are a few States where those with a financial interest in the sole use of programs, like “pre-trial services,” are seeking to pass bail reform legislation, purportedly to help the poor, that would in practice destroy the private bail bonds industry and cost taxpayers millions more dollars.
New Mexico is such a State proposing radical bail reform. In an article published in NMpolitics.net, Michael Swickard, Ph.D. writes a well written article why the changes in NM may be disastrous for the justice system there while not helping “poor” defendants at all.
Here’s how he describes one of the reasons why private bail bonds work so well to accomplish exactly what they are meant to accomplish – the appearance of the defendants in court until their case is finalized:
…most people who can get bail do so by their relatives or friends coming up with the money and property collateral. Who would put up their house for their child if the alternative is to refuse to do so and their child is released for being poor and unable to afford bail?
When someone is bailed out there are two parties that work together to make sure that person makes their court appointments: the people who provided the money for that person’s release and the bail bondsman. Both have a financial interest in that person doing the right things.
If people are just released on their own recognizance, there is not that pressure. Further, the private enterprise of bail bonds is such that the risk is weighed on each individual. Some people cannot bond out because no bail bondsman will take the risk. That is good to know.
One informed commentator on the above article made this often overlooked point that makes bail reform ostensibly to help the poor pointless:
New Mexico Courts currently have COMPLETE discretion to release defendants on their own recognizance…
So why is any new law needed to “help the poor?” A judge can always release a defendant on no bail or on the defendant’s Own Recognizance (OR or PR) for whatever reasons he feels is just for all – including whether the person is poor or the evidence is very weak so the likeliness of conviction is very small.
Clearly, there is no reason to pass any changes that would eliminate a privately funded bail bonds system that has worked well in this country for a couple of centuries to pass something else that would cost taxpayers far more money and accomplish nothing.