The scales of justice

In recent years the so-called bail reform movement has laid siege to statehouses from coast to coast. Brimming with noble-sounding rhetoric and backed by wealthy individuals who would never have to live with the consequences of the actions they champion, the movement has seen some limited "success" in states like New Jersey and California. But the movement itself is not actually about "bail reform." It's actually about bail elimination. Which is an entirely different matter.

Eliminating Bail Bonds is Not Only Extreme - it’s Also Unnecessary

Proponents of eliminating the centuries-old bail system speak in terms of reform because it doesn't raise as many alarms as words like "elimination" do. It also allows them to don the cape of respectability and avoid the "extremist" label. After all, how can someone who simply wants to reform something be an extremist? But extremist they are and reform is the last thing on their minds.

Now no one is claiming that the current system is perfect. But kicking the bondsman to the curb in the name of reform is completely unnecessary. The arguments against bail agents typically revolve around a couple of claims that are repeated over and over, including:

  • Bail Agents are Evil People Getting Rich off the Criminal Justice System
    • The Current Bail System is Unfair

    As far as the first claim is concerned, bail bondsmen are some of the hardest working people in your community. They spend much of their time looking out for the interests of their clients and making sure those clients meet their commitments. That way, everyone can have their day in court, and their client can get their money back at the end of the legal process.

    The second claim is one that anti-bail zealots are prone to repeating ad nauseum. And while there are certainly legitimate complaints to be made about a system where wealthy individuals can make whatever bail is imposed while poor people can’t, the answer is not to empty the jails. Which is what anti-bail lobbyists and their legislative team members propose doing.

    Eliminating bail to correct its shortcomings is like making cars more environmentally friendly by making them illegal. We can’t do that because as a society we need cars. Just like we need a functioning bail system. So what to do? Perhaps surprisingly a modest non-profit organization in the Bronx, New York has stepped up to show the anti-bail forces what real bail reform looks like.

    Enter The Bronx Freedom Fund

    Some people want to tear down the bail bonds system. Others want to make it work for everyone. Anti-bail extremists fit into the first category. While members of the Bronx Freedom Fund or BFF fall squarely into the latter. The BFF started some 10 years ago to address the issue at the center of the bail bonding controversy: the inability of some people to pay even modest amounts of bail. Their solution? Start a fund that provides bail for those individuals accused of non-violent crimes who would otherwise sit in jail indefinitely or else be compelled to plead guilty simply to gain their release.

    The BFF has continually grown in scope since its inception and last year provided bail for more than 1,000 such people. Whereas releasing people without bail has caused the number of court no-shows to skyrocket in states like Texas and New Jersey, 98 percent of the individuals bailed out by the BFF make all their court appearances.

    Another common talking point of the anti-bail lobby is that many individuals who can’t afford bail feel compelled to plead guilty to gain their freedom. The BFF addresses this issue as well. BFF clients are able to formulate a proper defense while out on BFF-supplied bail. As a result, more than half have the charges against them dismissed.

    The thing that makes the BFF such an overwhelming success is that funds donated can be used over and over again. That’s because bail money is always returned at the conclusion of legal proceedings as long as the accused lived up to their responsibilities. And, as we’ve seen, 98 percent of BFF clients do just that.

    Those who argue for the elimination of the cash bail system insist the only way to fix it is to eliminate it. That means emptying the jails, saddling taxpayers with the enormous costs of tracking thousands of released individuals and transforming judges either into bystanders or tyrants. The people behind the BFF, on the other hand, demonstrate emphatically that injustices in the system can be effectively addressed with just a little bit of innovative thinking.

    Send the Anti-Bail Lobby Packing

    The next time anti-bondsman lobbyists return to Adams County, Broomfield County, Weld County, and Denver to preach their gospel of civic irresponsibility ask them why they don’t support real reforms like those practiced by the Bronx Freedom Fund. Chances are you won’t be finished asking the question before they excuse themselves and move on to find a more gullible audience.

    The bail system is America certainly has some inconsistencies that need to be addressed. No one denies that. But throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not the way to do it. The bold, innovative thinkers at the Bronx Freedom Fund are showing the way toward real, meaningful bail reform. Their important work ensures the rights of the accused to be treated fairly while insuring the rights of the victims and preventing a wholesale release of potentially dangerous individuals onto the streets of our cities and towns.