West Virginia State Capitol Building

In a move that can only be described as Liberal Bait and Switch, Americans For Prosperity (AFP) are encouraging West Virginia lawmakers to adopt bail bonds reform adopted in New Jersey! The only problem with their effusive praise of the NJ program, which has supposedly “meaningfully lowered the burden faced by taxpayers,” is that it ignores the consequences of an 800-lb gorilla lumbering across a floor of flimsy wax paper. Namely, he crashed right through and made a huge mess.

What Happened in New Jersey

Basically, what’s happened in Jersey is bail bonding reform advocates tugged at everyone’s emotions. “Bail targets the poor, people who’ve already been victimized…” Yada yada yada. So lawmakers shoe-horned a bill down everyone’s throats, used worst-case scenarios, and arrived at a law in 2017 designed to move “the state away from a cash bail system to one in which judges hold pre-trial hearings to determine whether to release low-level defendants. The goal was to ensure low-risk defendants are not kept in jail simply because they can’t afford to post bail.”

Of course, like most bleeding hearts who use emotion rather than brain cells, these lawmakers forgot to fully consider one all-important question. Namely, how the heck is the new law going to be paid for? They wrapped their heads around everything else, it seems: Win points with advocates for the poor – check. Win points from low-level criminals who promise not to cause trouble anymore and become productive members of society – check, check.

Now New Jersey’s criminal justice system has arrived at this. About $292 million spent on the program since it was rolled out, with dire predictions that “the bail program will reach an overall negative balance by late FY2020 or early FY2021,” according to a report from April 2019. Supporters insist it’s working. The state’s once overflowing jails and prisons are less crowded – Great! Hardened criminals need room to breathe, too!

There’s Something Stinky in Trenton

Tony Soprano, the fictional mob boss of HBO fame, probably never made it to New Jersey’s state capitol, Trenton, on official business. But even if he didn’t, he would’ve likely agreed that something smells pretty fishy downwind from the Garden State lawmakers who implemented reform affecting bail bonding from Long Branch in the north to Cape May in the south to every town east and west. Yeah, it really stinks bad there.

And what does a Garden State bondsman think of all of this reform crap? Probably nothing we can print. But if we look at the numbers, we can maybe get a good idea of what’s stuck in his or her craw. Since the reform law was put in place:

  • The rate of failing to appear in court – up by 45%.
  • The number of increased crimes while on pretrial release – up by almost 8%.
  • New disorderly persons offenses while in release – up by almost 15%.
  • Complaint summons issued for someone out on bail scot-free – up by 31%.
  • So yeah. Dog the Bounty Hunter’s hurting, too. Oh. And by the way, how will the system be supported going forward? Short of some amazing new profit-generation scheme by the very same law makers who ram-rodded it through in the first place, the program is effectively running on deficit spending with the “ burden to now shift entirely to taxpayers using general tax revenue.”Great plan!

    If you want to use the tired phrase “In their defense” about New Jersey’s lawmakers, you can say this: They wanted to reform the criminal justice system and targeted bail bond reform because they thought it’d be a slam dunk. It was a dunk, all right – it just happened to knock the backboard and net, glass and all, right to the court. What a mess.

    Sticking it to Prosecutors and Law Enforcement

    Back to West Virginia now, where lawmakers have passed a bail reform bill one step closer to becoming law. House Bill 2419 obliges magistrates and judges to give “the least restrictive bail conditions determined to be reasonably necessary to assure appearance as well as ensure the safety of persons in the community and maintenance of evidence.” In some instances, that can include releasing a pretrial defendant without bail.”

    And what do prosecutors and law enforcement in neighboring New York think of this “let’s help the poor criminal” movement? From one district attorney in the Empire State: “District attorneys do not believe in general that people should be held in jail just because they can’t afford to get out,” said David Hoovler, the district attorney in Orange County and president of the District Attorneys Association of New York. “But people who have done bad things and are repeat offenders will be getting out.”

    Maybe West Virginia House Judiciary Committee chair Del. John Shott, R-Mercer should consider taking notes on what’s being looked at in New York, warts and all. Part of the proposal gaining steam in the Empire State would “still exempt just about all misdemeanors and non-violent felonies from pretrial detention. It would also give judges discretion to hold defendants with multiple convictions, those they deem likely to harm someone, and give them discretion to hold defendants charged in deaths and certain domestic violence and hate crimes.”

    Lawmakers in West Virginia are barreling toward some form of new, improved bail bond reform. But like unsuspecting and unaware taxpayers in Adams County, Broomfield County, Weld County, and Denver, it’s being promoted as a way to save tax dollars and – oh, by the way – reduce prison overcrowding, too! Bonus?