If you love fugitives walking the streets you’ll love the various efforts at bail reform being enacted across the country. One of the latest and most head-scratching of these efforts is that enacted in El Paso County, Texas. The good folks in that southern Texas county were anxious to address what they were told were injustices in the cash bail system. While most believed any changes would take the form of identifying those being wrongly held and rectifying the situation, what they got instead was a wholesale abandonment of the centuries old bail system and its replacement by a promise. Under the new system, in order to gain release, the defendant only has to promise to pay the bail amount if he or she fails to appear in court. And of course, no defendant would dare break such a promise. Would they?

Escaped Fugitives

Promises Promises

Turns out they would. And are. In record numbers. Whereas only some 10% of those who post actual bail bonds wind up on the run, nearly 40% of those being released based solely on their promise to pay are heading for the hills. Besides creating an enormous fugitive population this appalling number is generating a slew of secondary effects as well. For instance, 40% of victims are now being denied justice and counties are losing millions in bail that was promised but never paid. At the same time, those counties now face the specter of having to pay millions to track down all these new fugitives. But it gets even better.

A Kinder Gentler More Dangerous America

In spite of the complete failure of the “unsecured bail” system (as it’s being called), regressives - sorry, “progressives” - are moving swiftly to adopt the system for more serious crimes. Which means that in short order you’re not only likely to be sitting in a restaurant next to someone who skipped out on their court appearance for burglary or weapons violations, but you’ll also have the opportunity to dine in the company of accused murderers and rapists who skipped out on their court date too. Think about that.

Case in Point

Here’s a real life example of the new system working its magic: In 2018 one Aldo Gonzalez appeared before an El Paso county judge. The judge felt the severity of his crime warranted a bail of $350,000 (about 10 times the national average). But because El Paso County is now a kinder, gentler county they allowed Mr. Gonzalez to go free if he would just promise to pay the full amount if he failed to appear for his court date. So promise he did. Thing is, when it came time to show up and face the charges he was nowhere to be found, and neither was the $350,000 he promised to pay if he missed his court date. The end result? The victim was shortchanged by the system, the county lost $350,000 and no one is out there trying to bring him in (as would happen if a bail bonding agent had been involved) because the county can’t afford to be chasing down the ever growing number of fugitives created by the new system.

Incentivizing Flight

Mr Gonzalez is not alone in choosing to lie and leave. He joins the nearly 40% of people given the opportunity to gain their freedom based on nothing more than a promise who chose to ignore their promise and take their chances. In fact, the new system in El Paso county and elsewhere actually creates an incentive for folks like Mr Gonzalez to never appear in court. Because if they do, they’ll be socked with a huge bail payment they can’t make.

A Lose/Lose Proposition

The unsecured bail system is the latest in a slew of bad ideas floated in response to calls for bail reform. And it likely won’t be the last. Unsecured bail, from any objective viewpoint, is a lose/lose proposition for everyone and every institution involved.

  • More victims than ever will never have a chance to obtain justice through the system.
  • The defendants, who willingly lie in order to gain their freedom, are discouraged from ever appearing once they miss their first court date and become permanent fugitives.
  • Counties lose millions in uncollected bail that was promised to them by people who then fled and didn’t pay.
  • Courts are overwhelmed by a flood of cases where the defendants don’t appear.
  • And taxpayers are now paying for a system that is creating a tsunami of fugitives.

You can call that “progressive” if you want. Most rational people would call it a disaster.

Don’t Fall for the Unsecured Bail Scam

The current bail system is not perfect and even long term bondsman and bounty hunters will agree some type of reform is needed to level the playing field. But if someone asks for your support to bring unsecured bail to Adams County, Broomfield County, Weld County or Denver ask them who is going to chase down those 40% who promise to pay and then skip town? Who is going to ensure victims are able to obtain justice? Who is going to collect all that promised bail that defendants skip out on? And how are you supposed to live knowing that your kids are walking home from school through a sea of fugitives? If you get any good answers maybe you could pass them on to us. Because so far, all we’ve heard are excuses, excuses and more excuses.