Some cities throughout the U.S. have long-banned the practice of commercial bail. In Philadelphia, however, allowing individuals to be released from custody on their own recognizance with a simple I-promise-to-appear-in-court-if-you-let-me-out-of-jail, has led to an outstanding number of bench warrants.
The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported that current, more than 30% of Philadelphia’s criminal defendants fail to appear in court and the city has more than 61,000 outstanding bench warrants.
Many are suggesting the ban on commercial bail bonds business be reconsidered. The benefits of lifting the ban, they say, could be numerous:
- Accountability: bail bonds companies have a proven track record of getting defendants to appear in court. When defendants flee, bail agents have an established record in terms of tracking them down.
- People who are bailed out by a licensed bondsman are less likely to get into additional trouble while awaiting trial.
- The application process used by commercial bail bondsmen helps them assess the risk of a bond. If it is suspected a defendant is very likely to flee, most bondsmen won’t underwrite it.
- This process works. More than 97% of people who are bailed out return to court when required. The skip-rate of Philadelphia defendants is 10 times higher than the skip-rate of persons who are bailed out by a bondsman.
- If a defendant skips bail, bondsmen have a set period of time to get the defendant back into the system. If they fail, they will be on the hook for paying the full cost of the bond to the court as a penalty. Some might suggest that bondsmen are far more incentivized to find skips than are members of local law enforcement.
- When a person is bailed out, the bondsman asks for addresses and phone numbers of the defendant’s family, friends and place of work. They also require that a friend or family member “co-sign” the bond and take responsibility that the defendant will go to court. Not only does this augment accountability, it provides a starting point if a defendant fails to appear and needs to be tracked down.
All statistics considered, there are a number of benefits the commercial bail industry brings to the judicial system. These are just a few points to ponder.