Some bail bonds companies in a few states pocket the money clients’ paid them instead of paying the court the amount of forfeited bail, the Prison Policy Initiative reports.
This is enabled by legal loopholes that leave taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars, according to the October 2022 story.
Some state laws favor bail bondmen’s forfeitures. Unless the judge and prosecutor act fast, the bonds agents can file a motion to set aside forfeiture, while their client who skipped bail remains free, reported the article.
The public would be appalled if they knew how little of forfeited money was turned over, the story maintains.
This is not a local problem but a systemic one. The way the legal system backs the bail industry is a practice called “doubling up.” Some suspects obtain release on bond and court pretrial supervision, according to the article
Not only does doubling up relieve bond agents from having to monitor clients, it also burdens pretrial service agencies, which are held in reserve for people under their supervision.
The report brings together evidence from authorities to show that the system is dysfunctional by design, and that legal and procedural loopholes in the industry keep companies from paying when defendants do not appear in court.
The bondsman’s job is to bring people to justice, but their deep pockets lobby for loopholes to avoid regulation, this lobbying has a track record of killing reform legislation making it easier not to pay forfeitures, according to the report.
Operating risk free, bail industries bond out jailed people who cannot afford bail in exchange for a non-refundable fee, promising to pay the full bail amount to the courts, said the story.
California estimates that bond companies owe the state well into the millions. In Los Angeles County, 1.1 million forfeited bonds went unpaid in 2016-17, according to the story.
California courts do not have the infrastructure to follow up and file lawsuits. Because the bail industry is a for-profit industry, companies do not pay expenditures if they are not forced to, said the report.
In Texas, Harris County officials say that $26 million is owed in unpaid forfeitures. In some cases the forfeitures are a decade old. Investigative reports also show that $35 million is owed to Dallas County.
In 2011, New York City bondsmen owed $2 million for 150 cases in which judges ordered bail bonds.
The powerful incentive bail bonds create is to ensure court appearances. If commercial bail bonds are to have utility, the process must be simplified until these steps are taken the bonds are not worth the paper they are written on, asserted the story.
“If you don’t show up for court, the bondsmen sits back and waits because they know the sheriff is going to bring them back,” said a North Carolina district attorney.
Most people who have warrants for failure to appear are arrested, but these arrests are paid with public funds, according to the Criminal Justice Planning unit in Jefferson County, Colorado.
The magazine Mother Jones i investigated the financial records of 32 insurance companies that underwrite bail bonds. The publication showed that the companies pay less than 1% in forfeitures.
In the State of Virginia, a bail bond agent was caught using a fake death certificate, and false addresses to avoid paying forfeited dollars. Bail bond companies often give false address to avoid being served forfeitures, said the article.
Policies a nd p ractices a llow bail bond agents to escape accountability; the only way to enforce forfeiture payment is for governments to suspend bail agents’ authority to write bonds, according to the Prison Policy Initiative.