Few people would argue with the notion that the bail system in America is flawed and that some common sense reforms are long overdue. However, in recent years as momentum to develop and institute those reforms has gathered steam a more extreme group has effectively hijacked the reform movement.
To the leaders of this group nothing short of the total elimination of cash bail and the bail bonds system will do. The problem is, the proponents of a bail-free Colorado have no workable alternatives to offer. Their big idea is to release most offenders, make a large percentage of those released wear electronic monitoring equipment, saddle the state with the cost of monitoring those individuals and simply accept that the rate of no-shows in court is likely to skyrocket.
Those intent on eliminating the system of cash bail in Colorado tend to ignore several relevant facts about the current system that should be of paramount interest to taxpayers in Jefferson County, Arapahoe County or Denver County.
Let’s look at those points one by one.
One of the largely unspoken aspects of proposed bail-free systems is that suspects who are not deemed dangerous enough to remain in custody while awaiting trial but who are deemed a potential flight risk will be required to wear monitoring equipment. This will likely mean that tens of thousands of individuals in Colorado will be walking around with electronic ankle or wrist bracelets at any given time.
Beyond the fact that there will be so many individuals who have not been convicted of a crime being monitored as though they have, all that monitoring equipment costs money to purchase and maintain. In addition, scores of people will need to be hired to conduct the monitoring. Either that, or monitoring will need to be outsourced to private companies. In either case the potential costs run into the millions each year.
The current surety bail system by comparison costs counties nothing. Bail bondsmen like those of us at Tayler Made take on the responsibility of monitoring our clients once they are released.
Since a bail-free system provides no incentive for the released suspect to appear in court chances are good that they won’t. States like New Jersey and California that have eliminated cash bail claim everything is going swimmingly. But the fact is that there are, as of this writing, no statistics available concerning how many more no-shows the new system has created. That’s because those states only recently enacted their no-bail policies.
It is going to take time to compile reliable statistics but some within the justice system are predicting that when numbers finally do become available they’ll be shocking. Not only will there be many thousands more fugitives but the state will now be responsible for tracking them all down. And that’s going to cost plenty of taxpayer dollars.
With the current bail bonds system suspects have a vested interest in appearing for their court date. If they don’t they suffer a substantial financial loss. Multiple studies have shown that bail is the most effective method of insuring the defendant appears in court. Most importantly, if the accused does not appear in court tracking them down becomes the responsibility of the bail agent who typically hires a bounty hunter. The most important thing is that no costs are passed on to the state or county.
Under a proposed no bail system if a defendant decides not to show up for their court appearance the court and any victims will be left holding the bag. Sure, a warrant will be issued, but if the county can’t find taxpayer money to track down the fugitive they’re just gone.
With the current bail system if the defendant fails to appear the onus is on the bondsman to track him down with the indemnitor ultimately picking up the tab. In addition, the county keeps the full amount of the forfeited bail or bond. And finally, the bail agent pays a substantial amount of tax on each bond.
The bottom line is that the current bail system costs the taxpayer nothing, provides a mechanism for tracking down fugitives and provides a net positive cash flow for the county by way of bail agent taxes and forfeited bonds.
Shortly after New Jersey went bail-free in 2017 a number of counties sued the state claiming the financial burden placed on them by the requirements of the new system represented an “unfunded mandate”. In addition, after just a single year of implementation the judiciary in New Jersey is claiming the new system has drained their coffers dry and they need millions in additional funding from taxpayers or the whole no bail system will collapse.
New Jersey taxpayers are quickly discovering the no bail route is a highway to hell. Californians will no doubt come to a similar conclusion in a year or so. Colorado taxpayers would be wise to heed these warning signs and reject the rush to an expensive, unwieldy, discredited no-bail system.