The concept of bail bonds goes back nearly a thousand years in English common law and migrated to the United States during the colonial period. It was such a key feature of American justice at the time of the nation’s founding that it got its own mention in the Bill of Rights where the 8th amendment states flatly that “Excessive bail shall not be required”. (The founders wanted to prevent the practice of holding people in custody by means of exorbitant bail demands, which often happened in England.)
There are many websites out there that state either that the United States is the only country to still use a bail system or that the list of such countries is confined to the US and the Philippines. The fact is however, that there are quite a few countries, include England from which we derived the practice, that still make provisions for bail, including cash bail. The thing that separates the US (and the Philippines) from the crowd is the bondsman.
When someone is arrested in England, Wales, the Czech Republic, India, Scotland, Canada and elsewhere they may well be offered bail. But if they are they make any cash payment or offer collateral directly to the court rather than using a private agent. In the US bail opponents tend to base their opposition to bail agents on their philosophical belief that a private citizen should not be allowed to profit off of the justice system. While that sounds very principled and all it ignores the fact that lawyers often profit off the justice system to an obscene degree. And no one is suggesting we do away with lawyers any time soon. At least no one who understands the value of a good lawyer.
A good bail agent is more than just someone who is going to help you win your loved one’s release from jail, just like a good lawyer is more than someone who sits next to you in court counting their billable hours.
Just as there are lawyers who work tirelessly on behalf of their clients and others who have a hard time remembering their client’s name so too there are good bail bonding agents and there are others you might want to take a pass on. When looking for good bail agent keep the following questions in mind:
Plenty of seemingly high-minded people and organizations complain that bail bondsmen play too big a role in the justice system. They point to statistics which show that, whereas in 1990 most people charged with felonies were released without bail, more than 60 percent of such people today need to be bailed out.
But while it may be troubling that courts are requiring more and more people to make bail or stay in jail it is the courts, after all, that are imposing this requirement, not the hardworking bail agents. The bail agents are in fact one of the last resorts ordinary people have in being able to deal with a criminal justice system that seems to have decided that it’s bail or jail.
Although many opponents of the current bail system argue that it creates a situation where more people are likely to wind up in jail they conveniently ignore facts that suggest otherwise. For instance; Illinois has abolished the bail bonds business and yet they have a much higher rate of incarceration than New Jersey where bail agents are allowed to help people. The same can be said for Oregon, which banned bail bonding agents. They have a much higher percentage of their citizens behind bars than New York, a state where bail bondsmen are allowed to practice. So, the notion that the bail bondsmen are the problem or that eliminating them is a solution to what ails our criminal justice system just doesn’t hold water.