There are few issues more contentious than that of bail reform. As recently as 2019 there was still considerable momentum to do away with cash bail and those behind the movement were able to stand in front of cameras and, with a more-or-less straight face, declare that 24-hour bail bonds somehow made us all less safe.
And then 2020 happened.
The death of several suspects during encounters with police provided the excuse for months of looting and burning in cities across the nation. Most of this criminal activity was written off as “outrage” over what we were told was mounting injustice within the system. Fair-minded people across the country wanted to believe this. They also wanted to believe that things would settle down at some point and those responsible for the worst acts of violence and mayhem would be held accountable.
Then 2021 happened.
Of the 300+ people charged nationwide with serious crimes for the 2020 destruction, only a handful faced prosecution. The rest were released. In Minneapolis, a city that bore the brunt of the violence, more than 1,000 buildings were looted and burned. But charges have only been filed in 11 cases. At the same time, 95% of misdemeanor citations issued during the violence have been dismissed.
At the same time, almost everyone responsible for the orgy of destruction in 2020 was walking away without even a slap on the wrist previously passed bail reform laws in states like New York were feeding the fire. In 2021 murders in New York City rose more than 50% over 2019 levels and violent felonies increased by more than 1,000 per month. The NYPD issued a statement that said flatly “Criminal justice reforms serve as a significant reason New York City has seen this uptick in crime”.
Democrats in the New York state legislature recently tried to brush off the increased criminality by saying that “only” 2,000 people who had been released under the state’s new bail reform laws went on to commit violent felonies last year. Only 2,000. That’s 2,000 more victims than there would have been if cash bail were still in place. But to supporters of bail reform, those victims don't matter.
Meanwhile, in sunny California, which enacted some of the country's most controversial catch and release programs, shoplifting in cities like San Francisco has reached epidemic proportions. Thieves know that stealing less than $950 worth of goods is a misdemeanor and that, due to recently enacted criminal justice reforms, prosecutors will not press charges anyway. As a result, shoplifting in San Francisco is essentially legal now.
New York and California are not the only states that have seen a surge in criminal activity. Philadelphia last year shattered its all-time homicide record, as did Louisville, Austin, St Paul, Portland, Tucson, Columbus Ohio and other cities. In all, there were 4,000+ more murders nationwide last year than in 2019 - a 25% increase - and an even larger increase in assaults, auto theft, looting and armed robberies, with much of the increase being directly attributable to catch and release programs and “do not engage” orders being issued to police.
The crime surge in bail reform states has not bypassed Colorado, where prosecutors in Denver County, Jefferson County and Arapahoe County have taken to releasing all kinds of offenders on the condition that they be good girls and boys. Well, it turns out they’re not. All types of crime are surging in Colorado including auto theft, assaults, rapes and murders. And get this: nearly 1/3 of people arrested last year had been arrested at least 5 times in the previous 3 years, meaning that catch and release is, as predicted, creating a generation of repeat offenders.
Thankfully, all may not be lost.
Opponents of SB6 tried to undermine it by trotting out the bondsman boogeyman, but this time it didn’t work. People are slowly catching on that the bail bond agent in Golden or the bonding company in Lakewood provide a valuable service that helps to maintain order and ensure accountability.
Unfortunately, just as some states are waking up to the abject failure of bail reform others are blindly embracing the notion. Illinois, for instance, just passed a measure that will completely outlaw cash bail beginning on January 1, 2023. This, despite the fact that murders in Chicago are up more than 200% in the past 2 years and that assaults, carjackings and robberies have spiked citywide during the same period.
It’s unclear whether recent momentum toward a more sensible, safer future can be sustained. What is clear is that people are beginning to rethink their attitudes toward affordable bail bonds and are finally beginning to appreciate the important role the bail bond company plays in maintaining the social fabric.