Even with the COVID-19 pandemic, bail bonds reform laws are still an important storyline to follow. Lawlessness breeds crime, crime of the sort making its way across the country right now breeds anger, and anger breeds action which defies logic. Part of logic-defying action is how reform supporters believed, without evidence, that no-bail laws would be a cure-all for a criminal justice system desperate for reform. If you’re a bail bondsman, you can offer an important perspective on a solution.
COMMON ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT BAIL BONDS REFORM
Does bail bonding reform law work? It depends on who you ask and many other factors. But one thing is clear: Supporters make assumptions that are almost laughable, if it weren’t for sometimes unexpected consequences.
- Bail bond reform levels the playing field for poor, minority, and otherwise marginalized groups in society.
- Bail bond reform removes pressure from over-crowded jails and prisons.
- Bail bond reform laws are widely supported by judges and other law enforcement.
- Bail bond reform laws give the criminal justice system more time to focus energy and resources on cases that matter.
- Bail bond reform laws work.
Whether bail bond reform laws work is open to debate, and justifiably so. One of the key weaknesses with any law – regardless of intent, historical precedence, or how it’s implemented – is often the lack of continuing oversight.
The most ardent of supporters are harmed by, dare we say it? Arrogance and their own sense of moral superiority and baseless assumption that once reform laws are passed and implemented, there’s nothing else that needs to be done. The people have spoken, and that’s that! Not so fast. Like so many laws clogging the books, reform being debated throughout Colorado – Jefferson County, Arapahoe County, Denver Country – and in New York, California and elsewhere can't be set loose and expected to always function as intended. Laws must evolve, the same way people do.
WAYS TO MAKE BAIL BOND REFORM LAWS WORK
But instead of monitoring bail bonds reform for failure or weak points, proponents add a notch to their belts, a feather to their caps, and fracture their arms patting themselves on the back. If voters in Colorado, New York, New Jersey, or California want bail bond reform to work, here’s where they can start.
- State lawmakers need to create a bi-partisan commission with one mission: Monitor the success or failure of bond reform. This means keeping track of rates of recidivism, solicit feedback from voters across all demographic spectrums, and publish their findings twice a year for public review. Here’s a crazy idea: This proposed commission also should include at least one bondsman. Why? Feedback needs to come from all perspectives.
- Be open to the idea of evolution. Historically, many American laws become less effective over time because of societal changes and changes of circumstances. Bail bond reform laws, if they're going to work at all need to be amended as needed. There seems to be an assumption by supporters that reform will always work to everyone’s benefit, but we know otherwise based on criminal acts by defendants released without bail.
- Strengthen the funding mechanisms of judicial systems negatively affected by the loss of income. Courts and law enforcement in Colorado and elsewhere are partly funded by revenue from bail. Taking away that funding in one fell swoop and replacing it with nothing is dangerous, short-sighted, and doomed to failure.
- Reform can only work if it works to address some of the underlying causes of recidivism and crime. Bail bond reform laws need to be supplemented by programs that attempt to reduce repeat crime after release, provide support certain defendants after release, and support affected communities by monitoring and responding to citizen concerns as needed.
THE STATE OF BAIL BOND REFORM
As bail bondsmen and women, it’s our responsibility to stay current, to understand the different reform laws nationally so we can talk about them in an educated manner. If we want to enact meaningful change that’s also to our benefit, there’s no excuse for not knowing what’s happening across the country. That being said, here’s a quick rundown of where we’re at:
- Alaska – Tough times for no-bail supporters. Per Fox News: “Alaska joined the national trend of enacting bail reform in 2018, only for it to be rolled back months later by Republican Gov. Michael Dunleavy. Senate Bill 91 gave the state the ability to create a tool to assess a criminal suspect's risk of whether or not they will show up to court or will commit a crime while out on bail. In July 2019, Dunleavy signed into law House Bill 49, which effectively repealed the Senate legislation.”
- California – SB 10, signed by former Governor Jerry Brown, was slated to go into effect in January, but is now on hold pending the outcome of a voter referendum in November. There’s no telling how COVID-19 will affect voter turnout.
- Colorado – Still a work in progress.
- New Jersey – The state's new law went into effect on January 1, 2017, but is still rife with controversy.
- New York – Ahh, the Empire State gets much of the attention when it comes to bail reform. The new law went into effect on January 1, 2020, and was immediately touted as a cure-all to over-crowded jails and prisons that also would solve racial disparities. But the honeymoon with communities across the state ended pretty quickly, with some polls showing voters turned against the new law less than a month after it dropped.