Five Myths Driving the Bail Reform Movement

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Close-up of the word 'bail' in dictionary with beginning of adjacent definition

For the past decade the Arnold Foundation and its agents have been crisscrossing the country trying to convince the gullible that the thousand year old bail system is somehow evil. That it creates victims instead of ensuring justice. And that the bail bondsman spends all his time having parties on the yacht he bought with his ill-gotten gains.

Fortunately, the good people of Jefferson County, Arapahoe County and Denver County saw through the myths and PR haze being propagated by the bail reform movement and sent them packing. But legislators in other states have drank the bail reform Kool-Aid and citizens of those states have paid dearly for it. Let’s take a close look at five myths bail reformers use time and again.

Myth 1) People are Being Held Awaiting Trial Only Because They’re Poor

This is the one you hear most often and it’s a perfect example of how reformers ignore reality to try and shape public opinion. First of all the reason people are in jail is because there was probable cause to believe they committed a crime. Second, there are any number of reasons why they may be held that have little or nothing to do with bail. Those reasons include:

  • Probation violations
  • Waiting for transfer to another facility
  • Awaiting a hearing on additional charges
  • An immigration hold
  • A history of jumping bail
  • Family and friends unwilling to come to their aid

The last one is particularly important and very common. The defendant may have failed to show up for court in the past, causing a loved one to lose money or property. They may have addiction issues and the family feels time off the street would do them good. Or family and friends may want to send a message by letting them stew in jail.

Myth 2) Bail Agents are Racist, Uncaring Leeches

Bail reformers would have people believe that bail bondsmen are a pack of racist predators lurking in the shadows waiting to fatten themselves on the miseries of poor people of color. It’s one of the most egregious myths propagated by reformers and one they themselves know is untrue.

The fact is bonding agents exist to help people who can’t afford bail obtain their freedom. They are integral parts of the community who help their clients secure legal counsel, find help for substance abuse issues and secure temporary housing. They make sure their clients live up to the terms of their release and remind them of upcoming drug tests, check ins and court appearances. In many real ways they are just as important as a good lawyer.

Myth 3) Jails are Packed with Innocent Victims of the Bail Bonding System

Reformers would have people believe that everyone being held in pre-trial detention is a non-violent, first time offender. Furthermore, they are only being held because they are poor and have dark skin. The fact is that in states like California only 2% of the jail population is made up of non-violent, first time offenders. Hardly the 60-70% reformers are constantly claiming.

Also, many states now have laws making it illegal to hold first time, low level offenders. And on top of that, most states grant judges broad powers to release anyone they see fit on their own recognizance. So if the judge has decided to hold someone over there must be a good reason. Removing that discretionary power from judges - as reformers want to do - endangers everyone.

Myth 4) Bail Bonds Do Not Ensure Court Appearances

This is another whopper reformers love to spout. Unfortunately for them, statistics prove conclusively that bail is the best way, bar none, to ensure defendants make their scheduled court appearances. The US Justice Department has studied the issue at length and concluded that surety bonds are the most effective means of ensuring a defendant appears in court.

In states like New Jersey that effectively eliminated bail last year the number of court no-shows has skyrocketed. And that scenario is being repeated across the country in states and counties that have adopted the catch and release method promoted by the Arnold Foundation and other reformers. The result of all these missed court appearances are threefold:

  • No justice for the true victims
  • An ever increasing number of fugitives from justice
  • More dangerous cities and towns

Myth 5) The Bail Industry is Unregulated and Out of Control

The bail bonds industry is actually subject to intense regulation. All bail agents must undergo rigorous training and meet equally rigorous financial requirements. They must be properly licensed and they operate within very strict limits.

They are overseen in most states by the Department of Insurance or an equivalent governmental body. And consumers can easily report an agent if they feel they have been poorly served or unfairly treated. If the state determines a bail agent has violated the terms of their license they may impose fines, revoke that license and/or bring criminal charges against the agent.

The Bottom Line

The bail reform movement has thrived on promoting myths about the bail industry. The 5 listed above are just the tip of the iceberg. Fortunately, in a growing number of states, the tide is turning. People are no longer buying the anti-bail propaganda and are beginning to realize that the real threat to the public is in releasing a countless number of dangerous individuals in order to cure an injustice that doesn’t actually exist.

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