Evaluating the Bail Bond System

“Many people have their lives ruined because they’re unable to afford cash bail,” said Julian. (Photo by Gregg McQueen via the Bronx Free Press)

The human and economic cost of the private bail bond system in NYC was the subject of a roundtable discussion held June 8 at the Osborne Association, an organization that offers programs to “prevent and reduce the damage caused by crime and incarceration.”

Osborne clients, staff members and City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer were at the roundtable, reports Gregg McQueen of The Bronx Free Press. Some individuals told stories that illustrated the burden that the bail bond system puts on people, especially those who may be accused of minor offenses and cannot afford a bond of $500. One of those individuals, Julian, told of how after being arrested on a drug charge, he had been unable to make bail and remained in jail for 60 days. He decided, even though he maintained his innocence, to plead guilty to the charge in order to get on with his life.

“My freedom was more important to me,” said Julian about his decision to plead guilty. “I felt it was better to be released than to be stuck in jail for who knows how long. I figured it would get me my trial faster.”

But he acknowledged that he has paid a price for his decision, as he has had difficulty finding employment since his release.

“I’ve even been offered jobs, but once they do the background check and see the guilty plea, I don’t get the job,” he said.

In January, Stringer released a study that estimated that, writes McQueen, “within the past year, the private bail bond industry extracted between $16 million and $27 million in nonrefundable fees from New York City defendants and their families. Meanwhile, detainees lose about $28 million in wages every year because they were incarcerated after not being able to pay bail.” Stringer spoke at the roundtable about some of the larger economic costs to the city as well when people accused of crimes can’t afford bail.

“When they can’t make bail, they’re in jail and taxpayers are footing the bill. We estimate that [the city is] spending over $100 million on incarcerated people before they get their trial date because they couldn’t come up with a $500 cash bail,” Stringer said. “That is madness to me, the amount of taxpayer money that is going doing the drain. People lose jobs, lose wages.”

Stringer noted that while crime has declined in the city, “we have not managed low-level offenses well.”

Go to The Bronx Free Press to read what some participants recommended be done about the “messed-up” cash bail system, and to hear about how the need for solutions like more affordable housing also figured in the discussion.

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