Bail Reform Needed

August 26, 2017
To the Editor:
I am pleased to see the NY Times and other media describe how the for-profit bail-bond industry profits at the expense of incarcerated persons. The bail-bond industry is fighting for its life because, more and more, research, practice, and legal decisions have shown how inadequate, corruptible and inhuman the linking of one’s freedom is to whether a person can pay for release. The bondsmen are free to pick and choose who they will release on bail. They fish for a lucrative contract. They will not take cases with small bail amounts imposed – it is not worth the money. The poorest with a few hundred dollars bail are left to sit in jail. Such release of defendants is abdicated by the courts to the bondsman who will decide who will be bailed out based on ability to raise the money.
Jurisdictions such as New Jersey are ensuring that pretrial services are properly conducted within the government and court structure through risk assessments statistically validated for the jurisdiction; they assist courts with arrestee information and asses his or her risk of flight and re-arrest.
Similar to probation or health services, these pretrial services programs are recognized programs with the skill and expertise to work and supervise arrested persons at the pretrial stage of the process and supported to ensure their ongoing viability. They assure the steady administration of pretrial justice, law, and services to ensure fair and unbiased treatment of persons in determining their release. One size does not fit all; one size fits one.
This cannot take place while money is ensconced in our judicial system without strong regard for personal freedom. Using money as a key player in the justice system has had the following effects:
Judges have multiple options for pretrial release but rely overwhelmingly on money bail or bond. Prosecutors use inability to make bail to force a plea. Jurisdictions rely on local jail for jobs and empower Sheriffs’ departments with new jail facilities and larger budgets—the majority of inmates in those jails are pretrial detainees who cannot afford bail. Bail-bondsmen have sought and been elected to county-supervisor positions to assure their business interests are protected.
The pretrial service community around the country has pushed back by describing what is actually happening when money rules the roost in court decision-making versus creating safer communities that use best practices surrounding release of eligible defendants through minimal risk recognizance, various levels of focused supervision and in some cases, preventive detention.
The pretrial professionals doing this work around the country are dedicated – many are certified and programs are now eligible for national accreditation. They receive no extra money for what they do—their mission is the arrested person, not the number of bail contracts written. They are ordinary people helping to realize our wonderful constitution—not Dog the Bounty Hunter.
Peter C. Kiers
Director at Large
New York State Association of Pretrial Services Agencies

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