Bail Reform – Just Say NO!!
Bail Reform – better known as Catch and Release – had reared its ugly head in the state of Texas. First, lets get a few things straight. The right to bail is a constitutional amendment – and as such it’s not up for debate! Second, the bail amount is centered around the alleged crime – not the defendant’s ability to pay the bond – and that is as it should be. Third, what’s being labeled as needed Bail Reform is actually needed Judicial Reform.
When people talk about bail reform, there are generally two schools of thought: 1) people that feel defendants should be released from jail while awaiting trial based solely on their ability to pay their bond fee, and 2) people that feel law enforcement agencies, magistrates and judges should have better access to the background histories of the defendants when determining bail.
First, lets review the argument that defendants with low level or misdemeanor charges should be released based on their ability to pay, or alternatively, their risk of committing another crime or showing up for court.
Proponents of the risk assessment bail reform methodology claim that an algorithm can determine whether or not a defendant is likely to commit another crime or whether that defendant will show up for court or not. Let’s stop right here and let that algorithm “thing” sink in for a couple of minutes… So, some outfit came up with a computer program they claim can determine if Johnny will either get into trouble again or if he’ll show up to all of his court dates, and they’re pushing awful hard to have this program implemented in every municipality in the country. Instead of doing an old fashioned marketing campaign, they’ve decided to go big and create a whole country-wide ‘initiative’ to change the country’s mindset, and somebody bought into it – hook, line and sinker! I can’t help but wonder who’s behind the $$’s of applications like that. Can you just imagine the profitability if the whole country is forced to purchase these apps?
What We’re Seeing With Dallas Bail Bonds
The proponents of the risk assessment method claim that the current bail system is geared towards helping people that have money; people that can pay the bail amount and be released while awaiting trial.
One of the most used examples I hear when listening to these proponents is: “some one has a misdemeanor charge with a $1000 bond who is not able to pay the $1000 will lose their jobs, their homes and everything else they own because they aren’t able to pay the $1000 to be released” – or other statements along those lines.
Here’s the fact they always seem to omit in the course of their argument: a $1000 bond does NOT cost the defendant $1000. That $1000 bond can be purchased for as little as $150. And in the Dallas bail bonds arena I’ve even seen that $150 be put on a payment plan. There’s also that crazy notion of ‘being responsibility for your actions’, but that’s a hard conversation we’ll save for a whole other post!
Basically, pro risk assessment folks don’t think it’s fair to have amounts on bail bonds that apply to everyone equally across the board. But they DO think it’s fair to have bail amounts set based on statistical estimates on what a defendants future actions might be! Are you thinking Crystal Ball/Ouija Board/Psychic Reader stuff? Because I sure am!
Here’s the problem with the risk method. Criminal history is just one element used to derive their estimates. The problem with using criminal history is that the history itself may have been based on systemic racial biases in the judicial system or in the policing when the defendant was arrested or even fraudulent charges that may or may not be associated with active cases. No way to know the outcome of a case until it’s resolved and closed.
Proponents of bail reform by risk method claim the tool is objective, where the current bail system is not. Did I mention the current bail system sets bail amounts across the board based on the charge and past criminal history? The risk method’s objectivity completely falls apart when you consider the estimates can be freely adjusted by the very same magistrates and judges who use the current system now.
So what stops bias from entering the picture when the people making the decisions are not required to use any standard measurement system? You guessed it! Nothing. Only now bond amounts can be set at any amount based on whatever adjustments have been made to the estimates and what type of day the judge/magistrate is having.
Now, let me be clear. This is not a slam against the individuals making these decisions. Most are quite capable and possess the utmost level of integrity. But, we’ve all heard of situations where some folks on the bench have made quite questionable decisions.
When using statistical estimates to determine a defendants probability of committing another crime or appearing is court, what happens when that defendant has no past criminal history? Is the assumption that since they haven’t done anything in that particular state in the past, that they won’t do anything again? Therefore they can be released on a pinky swear and everything should be fine? Or, what happens when the person computing the estimates makes a mistake? You might think there isn’t a possibility of making this sort of mistake. In fact, I haven’t seen or heard any risk assessment proponents mention the flaws in their system. But believe me, the flaws exist!
What About The Victim’s Rights?
What happens to the victim’s rights when someone is released on a pinky swear? Most proponents of bail reform downplay the actual charges. They only mention misdemeanor charges like petty shoplifting or graffiti writing. They don’t mention other misdemeanor charges like assault and such, some of which are still misdemeanors.
These pinky swear releases send the message that the victims don’t really count and the defendants don’t have any serious responsibility or accountability. Nobody is vested in making sure the defendant shows up for court. Which brings up another point: the risk assessment methods calls for defendants to be released within 24 hours of being booked in. If the defendant fails to appear for court a warrant is issued for their arrest.
It may be months or even over a year before the defendant just happens to get rearrested again. If the defendant still falls within the same socio-economic level as when they were originally arrested, the risk method will have the defendant back out on the street again with 24 hours. With this round-robin/revolving door policy, at what point does the defendant actually go to trial? At what point does the victim’s rights come into play? Because unless the defendant just happens to get arrested within 24 hours of their scheduled court appearance, they will never have to go to court! Does that send the appropriate public safety message? NO.
Another real scenario regarding the consequences of bail reform goes like this: the defendant gets the PR/pinky swear bond and is released on their own recognizance. The fail to appear in court, now have a bond forfeiture and a warrant, and they get rearrested. They get arraigned by a judge that sets a regular bond based on the fact that they now have a bail bond forfeiture. That new bond will usually be significantly higher than had they been issued a regular bond in the beginning.
But because they were originally released through a court system that did not have the resources to provide monitoring and require check-ins, the defendant may have been given the impression that not showing up for court was not big deal. No family members were involved or invested in the defendant’s release, and no other person had skin in the game to ensure he/she showed up for court.
Now those risk method proponents have created a very real situation where the defendant has a new bail bond at a higher cost that is well out of the reach of them and their family to obtain.
Providing Dallas Bail Bonds Service
I know some would reply “well they should have shown up for court!” And you’d be correct. But here’s the thing – bail bonds agents are the ones who currently take on the responsibility of ensuring defendants understand the importance of showing up for court. Bail bonds agents are the ones who take on the responsibility (along with the person(s) co-signing for the bonds) of having that defendant check-in. Those check-ins are a very necessary part of ensuring county bail bondsman are conversing with the defendant on a regular basis, reminding them of pending court dates and inquiring about their activities around procuring legal representation.
All of these activities come at no cost to the general public. In Dallas bail bondsman take on this responsibility and shoulder the burden of ensuring defendants hit their court dates. Sometimes just the family’s involvement alone is enough for the defendant to take the situation seriously. Nobody wants to see their loved one in trouble, but when it happens most family members want to help them get through the process as successfully as they can. So ensuring their loved ones are doing everything possible to keep their bond in place is generally at the top of everybody’s list.
Unfortunately, many people have jumped on the bail bonds reform bandwagon without understanding fully what it means or where it’s going. Many of the people on that bandwagon are still wondering how jail bonds work or trying to figure out to get someone out of jail the cheapest way possible.
Dallas County bail bonds agents handles these types of questions every day. And we are prepared to work through the process with anyone who needs answers on how to bond someone out of jail.
Stay tuned for Part II of this Bail Reform series. We’re not done yet! And in the meantime, if you have a state representative who’s pushing for bail reform, be sure to ask them who will shoulder the cost of their efforts since it will have to be paid by the public.
If they say the costs will be paid by the municipalities, be sure to ask where those funds will come from. Ask if that means taxes will be raised or budgets will be cut. If budgets will be cut, then you definitely want to ask exactly WHAT budgets will take the hit. Basically, the cost has to be covered somehow, and overtaxing the public or undercutting programs already in place are not acceptable options.
If you have questions regarding bail bonds or how bail bonds in Dallas work, feel free to give us a call at 214-372-2500 or check us out here. We’ll be happy to assist you in getting answers to any bail bond related questions you may have.