The End of Bail Bonds? Professor Lauryn Gouldin Assesses Flight Risk with the LA Times
Facing eradication, the bail industry gears up to mislead the public about its value
(Los Angeles Times | Oct. 4, 2019) Few businesses enjoy a reputation for providing a public service as inflated as the bail bond industry.
To hear bail agents talk, they’re virtually the only people who can protect innocent communities from violent chaos perpetrated by defendants let out of jail before trial. “The most effective form of release in terms of ensuring appearance at court were releases on a financially secured bail bond,” the American Bail Coalition, the industry’s trade group, says on its website.
In California, the business of issuing bail bonds for profit is under attack as it is nowhere else in the nation. With the signature of then-Gov. Jerry Brown on a bill dubbed SB 10 in 2018, the state outlawed cash bail for criminal defendants. SB 10 created a new system allowing judges much greater discretion in setting terms of pretrial release for all but the most violent defendants ...
... The U.S. Justice Department calculated in 2009 that 83% of all felony defendants released before trial appear for all court dates, and of the remainder, almost all returned to court within a year. Only 3% remained fugitives after that time.
The statistics don’t materially change in jurisdictions that have largely, if not entirely, dispensed with cash bail, such as the state of New Jersey and Santa Clara County in California. “Concerns about a possible spike in crime and failures to appear did not materialize” after New Jersey reformed its pretrial release system in 2017, the state courts reported this year.
In part, this reflects misunderstandings about why people miss their court dates. Studies show that a large proportion of failures to appear are due to defendants’ confusion over court dates, difficulty getting time off from work or securing child care so they can make it to court, or other such factors unrelated to a desire to evade justice.
“There’s an imprecision in the conversation about failures to appear,” says Lauryn Gouldin of Syracuse University law school, an expert on the bail system. “There’s a historic shorthand about ‘flight risk,’ but that doesn’t capture the majority of the problem. Most people aren’t going to flee the jurisdiction" ...