Commentary: Current bail system shouldn’t be discarded

There are lots of parts of our United States justice system that could and should be improved. However, he private bail system and bail bonds industry  is probably the most efficient and effective part of the whole system. It is definitely not where overhaul should begin –  despite a heated debate taking place nationally, led by State like Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and even New Jersey with its Republican Governor (and presidential candidate) Chris Christie.

Clips from Albuquerque Journal – Saturday, August 8, 2015 make some good points that should be kept in mind. Emphasis is this author’s:

. . . 

Bail is a constitutional right that impacts millions of Americans and their families every year and is a cornerstone of our nation’s criminal justice system. As the debate over bail reform continues, however, all of the stakeholders and public officials especially have an obligation to stick to the facts that led to the reform effort. Unfortunately, a recent opinion piece by Arthur Pepin of the State Court System in New Mexico failed to clear that hurdle.

Pepin and others are pushing toward a “reformed” bail system that is not based on real data and that, ultimately, will jeopardize public safety.

Court administrators are following a national trend alleging reform that poses significant risks to citizens. Allowing violent persons to walk out of jail on low bonds or on a simple promise to return [often called PR, or personal recognizance bonds]  for their court dates is dangerous. Relying solely on computerized risk assessment to determine whether or not a defendant is violent is not sufficient to protect the public.

There have been a number of cases recently where dangerous criminals, even accused murders were released on PR bonds.  See video to the right for one example. 

Secured bonds serve two primary and critical functions:

  1. They increase the likelihood that a defendant will actually show up for his court date.
  2. They provide a privately funded (non-taxpayer-funded) means for payment of recovery when defendant’s fail to appear.

For those very important functions, the bail bonds industry is works better than any other solution tried. Read on…

A study in the University of Chicago Journal of Law and Economics, using years’ worth of data from the U.S. Department of Justice, found that, “Defendants released on surety bond are 28 percent less likely to fail to appear than similar defendants released on their own recognizance, and if they do fail to appear, they are 53 percent less likely to remain at large for extended periods of time.

Activists like to cite New Jersey as a model for reform. Officials there expanded the state’s role in monitoring defendants. But New Mexico’s citizens need to pay close attention to any effort to expand the state’s role in monitoring defendants who are free while awaiting trial.

New Jersey’s decision to move forward on a preventative detention and supervision plan has already been publicly reported by state court officials as something the state simply cannot afford.

Other “reformers” point to Mesa County, Colo., as a viable model. Officials there decided to rely on “evidence-based practices,” which leads to the release of more violent offenders while stepping up supervision. But 21.5 percent of defendants in that county committed a new crime while being supervised during the 2014 review period.

Arrest warrants in felony cases for those who did not show up for court in Mesa County, as a result of a shift to these “evidence-based” practices have increased by 75.5 percent over the last five years.

There is no question that our bail system warrants constant study and review, just like every other element of our criminal justice system. But the fact remains that bail agents play a vital role that the state or local jurisdictions cannot provide.

And here is why the private bail bond system works better than any other system that claims to be able to do the same thing :

Bail agents and the family members or friends who post the bail have a vested interest in making sure that criminal defendants show up for trial.

Bail agents have a responsibility to monitor high-risk defendants as well. In New Mexico, bail bond agents have unilateral authority to return a defendant to court at any time for any reason, and often a third-party or bail agent will receive information that the person is about to commit new crimes, has begun using drugs again, or is about to flee.

Court administrators cannot be allowed to rush headlong into implementing reforms for the sake of a few positive headlines. Any changes should be grounded in real data, and state officials have a responsibility to provide citizens with that data before any changes are implemented.

The bail system envisioned by the federal and New Mexico constitutions works. … !

See also:

Man allegedly stabs wife hours after release on own recognizance

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