Is the Bail Bond Industry on Death Row?

Civil rights campaigners have come together to launch a new campaign against the bail bond industry. The movement, which was launched on Wednesday, could be the biggest step towards ending America’s focus on cash bail.

Udi Ofer, the deputy national political director representing the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the group wishes to bring an end to the bail industry’s for-profit operations in the United States.

The efforts are centered on what Offer is calling a public opposition campaign, and the hope is to get lawmakers and voters to turn against those who are trying to oppose the bail system. This system is centuries old, but those campaigning for reform believe that it preys on poorer people and is driving mass incarceration.

Civil rights groups on Wednesday said that they would launch a multi-front campaign against the industry, and that they hope to bring an end to for-profit operations. The goal is to find new ways to operate the system which are fairer to those who have been arrested, and that will provide equal opportunities for those who are incarcerated but that under the current system are simply not in a position to actually post bail. The campaign is being run by Ofer, and by members of several organisations that are fighting against bail – such as Just Leadership USA and Color of Change. They plan to expose the profiteering which they believe is happening in the bail industry, and to engage in petitions against the bail bonds system as well as holding community forums, and discussing the possibility of filing one or more lawsuits against companies that operate in the bail industry.

Offer called the events the evolution of a new movement, and said that it was a product of the way that the primary opposition to reform of the bail system has come from those who operate in it as a for profit industry.

Via lawsuits, legislation and judicial orders, reformers have managed to accumulate a number of wins, and are now working to get state governments and local governments to find alternatives to bail – things that will ensure that dangerous suspected criminals are locked up, but that those who are less likely to be dangerous will have a chance to be let out while awaiting trial without having to pay for bail. Some jurisdictions are using algorithm-based tools to help judges to work out who should have a chance at bail and who should remain in custody.

Earlier this month, Alaska introduced a system that foregoes bail. Meanwhile, New York City’s comptroller has called to ban commercial bonds for bail. There is opposition to these movements from bail bond industry representatives, who feel that the system is performing an essential public service because it ensures that defendants turn up for their hearings. They argue that eliminating bail could put the public in danger, and would be a waste of taxpayers’ money, as well as potentially violating the constitutional guarantee of bail.

The bail bond industry is backed by insurance companies, and is resisting the reform movement. So far, they have sued the New Mexico Supreme Court over changes to bail rules, and defended the industry from changes to the rules in Maryland as well.