Billionaire John Arnold

Most people don’t realize it but the driving force behind the so-called “bail reform” movement of the past few years has been a non-profit called “the Arnold Foundation”. The Arnold Foundation began life almost a decade ago in search of a cause to champion and saw the bail bonds industry as an easy mark. They hired programmers no one has ever met to devise software no one understood that was supposed to take the risk out of releasing accused criminals, thereby rendering bondsmen obsolete.

Many took issue with the Foundation’s premise that we’d all be safer if there were more dangerous individuals on the street and fewer in jail. But the Arnold Foundation stuck to their guns and enjoyed some initial successes. Now, however, as resistance has welled up to the travesty they’ve unleashed the Foundation is doing an abrupt about-face and finally admitting that maybe, just maybe, they were wrong. Well, duh!

Arnold Quietly Admits Their Anti-Bail Bonding Crusade Was a Bad Idea

In order to save face following a series of bail reform defeats in various states the Arnold Foundation has decided to shift gears. They’re going to give up their non-profit status and become a for-profit organization called “Arnold Ventures”. This will free them to invest vast sums from their founder’s deep pockets to press for a kinder, gentler type of bail reform. According to James Cadogan at Arnold Ventures their new initiative will seek to champion the following 5 points:

  1. Reducing the number of unjust detentions.
  2. Working to ensure no one is in jail simply because they can’t afford bail.
  3. Working to ensure a presumption of release nationwide.
  4. Reserving detention for those few who represent a danger to the public or a flight risk.
  5. Protecting due process by holding a hearing in every detention case.

Those sound like high and mighty principles. And many of them are. There’s only one problem: they’ve been ingrained in the law for centuries. So the Foundation’s noble sounding declaration is nothing more than an admission that they’ve spent years trying to cram their anti-bail agenda down people’s throats for no good reason.

A Closer Look at Their New/Old Ideas

Let’s take a look at the 5 principles Arnold Ventures says are really important to them now that they’ve all but abandoned the bail algorithm. Those points are:

  1. Reducing the number of unjust detentions - Arnold Ventures puts this at the top of their list of new, driving principles as if they invented it. But the fact is the entire American legal system - including bail - is designed to prevent people from being unjustly detained. So nothing new here. Just for fun though we would challenge Cadogan or anyone else at Arnold Ventures to find one bail bondsman anywhere who is in favor of unjust detentions. Just one. We’ll wait…
  2. No one is jailed because they can’t afford bail - Nothing new here either. This is a bedrock principle of the American legal system that’s hard at work every day in Adams County, Broomfield County, Weld County, Denver and beyond. Are there some people being held because they can’t afford bail regardless? Yes. But that doesn’t mean you should toss the whole bail system. What you can do instead is take your lead from innovative thinkers like those at the Bronx Freedom Fund. The BFF is a non-profit that provides bail to those who can’t afford it. And it works. Google it if you have a minute.
  3. Ensure a presumption of release - Again, what exactly is new about this idea? The bail system is built on the principle that people have a right to go free while awaiting their day in court. And right now in bail states more than 80% of misdemeanor defendants and 60% of felony defendants do go free while awaiting the disposition of their case. That’s actually a higher percentage than in some non-bail states. The difference is that, because there’s bail money to potentially be lost, a higher percentage of those out on bail show up in court. Whereas in non-bail states the number of no-shows has skyrocketed.
  4. Reserving detention for those few who represent a risk - Holding only those who represent a danger to themselves or others or who represent a significant flight risk has been part and parcel of the American justice system right from the start. But since the language here harkens back obliquely to rhetoric from their now discredited bail reform efforts of the recent past this seems more like a face-saving tool for Arnold than anything else. They can point to it and say “See, we haven’t given up the idea of a bail free society!”
  5. Insisting on a hearing in every detention case - We’re not sure if those at Arnold Ventures have been sleeping all this time but this is also a foundational element of the justice system. Pretrial detentions have been upheld by the Supreme Court precisely because these types of hearings exist.

The Bottom Line

Now that they’ve been backed into a corner by resistance to their anti-bondsman crusade the folks at Arnold whatever-you-call-it are now trying to claim credit for inventing the American justice system. But while it’s nice to know they’ve tacitly admitted their bail reform efforts were misguided, it would be naive to think they won’t continue to try and conduct their war on bail from behind the cover of these new/old principles.