Face of gray wolf with gold eyes in woods

The world’s in a bind right now, and bail bond advocates nationwide – including some in Adams County, Broomfield County, Weld County, and elsewhere in Colorado – are chomping at the bit. The cynical amongst us would say this is the opportunity they’ve been waiting for. COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, so America’s incarcerated certainly deserve a chance to somehow serve their sentence without the risk of dying because of the pandemic. Right? The need for comprehensive and sensible bail bond reform is critical.

Are you familiar with Aesop’s fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and how it may serve as a parallel to what’s going on with the push to “reform” (aka “do away”) the bail system? If not, you should be, and every bail bondsman in Adams County should take notice. In the fable, a shepherd boy repeatedly cried wolf to the point where villagers ignored his warnings – until it was too late. As bail bonds reform advocates have relentlessly pushed to eliminate cash bail for nearly all crimes, bondsman have done their best to warn of the dangers of doing before thinking – and now it may be too late.

Members of the New York Assembly’s minority committee are admitting that “crime is on the rise in cities around New York.”

Some on the committee went so far as to blame the state’s bail reform law as a primary driver in rising crime rates. In Watertown, New York, Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay insists the crime increase can be witnessed as near as Syracuse. "Homicides are up 21 percent and burglaries are up 31 percent," said Barclay (R. - Pulaski).

Other enlightened politicians, like North county Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, say the increase is less than coincidental. He called it predictable, jabbing a knife deep into the heart of reform-without-common-sense supporters by saying that criminals who are released without bail will commit the same crime once more.

Blame the Democrats?

Unsurprisingly, law enforcement leaders and elected Republicans in New York are pressing back against current criminal justice reforms put into motion Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic-run state legislature. They insist a boost in violent crimes could mean the new laws went further than intended, and they want the policies reversed.

Earlier this year, new laws went on the books and did away with most types of cash bail for nonviolent defendants. What’s gotten law enforcement and some bondsman riled up is this: The disciplinary records of police officers went public after the repeal of 50-a, a state civil rights law provision in which Governor Cuomo is requiring “local governments and their police departments to ‘re-imagine’ their policing structure and policies and submit a reform plan to the state by next April.”

Patrick Phelan, president of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police and Chief of Police in the Rochester suburb of Greece, contends law enforcement has been blocked out of the decisions Cuomo and the state legislature made and now people are in danger.

“They ignore us, they issue edicts, having no idea what the unintended consequences are going to be,” said Phelan, who accused Cuomo and democratic lawmakers of being on an “anti-police mission.”

“It’s clearly going to lead to an increase in crime,” Phelan said.   Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay alleged that homicide rates have risen in some cities statewide. He also insists burglaries and shooting incidents have increased.  Barclay said that no one is sure for certain the reason for the spike in crime, but eased onto a ledge and threw the blame back at the no cash bail crowd. He said the increase is due to the passage of seemingly “endless pro-criminal policies that have been passed in Albany over the last few years.”

A Bridge Too Far

Even the best intentions can be damaging when they go too far. There’s a passage from the poem “To a Mouse” which states: “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Today, even the most seasoned and skeptical members of the bail bonding profession would admit that bail bond reform nationwide hasn’t been implemented to harm innocent people – or anyone else for that matter.

So, let’s consider bail reform then.

Nationwide, there’s been a remarkably successful movement to alter the cash bail system. The movement has resulted in notable features: An inevitable delay between arrest and trial; judges have discretion to permit the defendant to remain free pre-trial; if the defendant is considered dangerous or a flight risk, a judge can order the person held until legal proceedings are done.

Bail has been the compromise choice for decades, with a Denver bondsman acting as a “bank” for someone who can’t pay the whole bail amount. The trade-off for paying back less than the full amount is that the defendant doesn’t get back the tiny money of the bond the accused provides from the bail bondsman.

As a response, jurisdictions around the United States have abolished or drastically reduced cash bail for even low-level offenses. In Nevada, for instance, that state’s Supreme Court revamped the bail system in a sweeping April decision. In other jurisdictions, attempts have been extra forceful. Last year, New York lawmakers approved a law that does away with cash bail for most nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors.

Cash bail reform is a movement worth chasing, if it benefits everyone. Provisions must exist for defendants who continually flout the system. Adjustments to bail are crucial, but they shouldn’t provide repeat criminals a get-out-jail-free pass.