Back to School Lesson for Parents:
Bail Bonds 101
By Tonya Page-Rynerson, California Bail Bondsman
The parents of college students know that college is an expensive venture. Throughout the school year they know there will be funds needed for tuition, dorm furnishings, books, meal plans, and unplanned expenses. All parents get calls from their child asking for money, but few are ever prepared for them to call from jail asking for bail bond money.
This isn't just an unexpected expense; it’s the shock of an arrest of a young adult. It’s not just a financial decision; it’s emotionally challenging time for parents and students.
Most parents have no idea what to do next and are full of questions. Should they stay out of it and "teach the kid a lesson" or post bail? If they want to help, what's the next step? Can they even afford to pay for a bail bond? Is it possible to bail out someone in another state? The best way to get answers is to call an expert – a licensed bail agent.
Parents' Dilemma: To Bail or Not to Bail?
The most common question most parents ask is: "should I post bail?" They're thinking of all the times they sternly told their teen (and maybe their parent’s told them): "you go to jail, be prepared to spend the night." A night in jail is a lesson nobody will ever forget.
However, jail conditions vary widely. For instance, in Los Angeles County, a college student who isn't bailed out quickly from a local jail may end up in the Twin Towers or Men's Central Jail facilities. We're not talking about the Mayberry jail with gentle Otis as a cellmate. These jails couldn't be farther from Mayberry if they were located on the Moon.
In Los Angeles, a night of college carousing can have serious implications. Jail is a scary place to be and can be dangerous. As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2006: "With nearly 6,000 inmates — some of whom are only awaiting trial — the Men's Central Jail is also one of the nation's most violent facilities. Since 2003, nine inmates have been killed in the jail."
Of course, not all arrests land a young person in a violent jail, but location is an important consideration. Many small community jails don't keep detainees for a long period of time. If they aren't bailed out quickly, defendants are transferred to larger city or county facilities and have to go through the arrest and booking process all over again.
That promised "night in jail" could literally become days in jail if the student isn't bailed out promptly.
Any way you cut it, dealing with the legal process itself is enough to "teach a lesson" to any student who will learn it. The student suddenly is faced with the embarrassment of arrest and booking, loss of personal freedom, and the prospect of explaining himself to the law and court system. College students make mistakes and show bad judgment – parents might say horribly bad judgment – but leaving them in jail longer isn't necessary to create an impact.
Bail Bond Agents Prefer to Work with Families
Don't be surprised if your college student calls someone else first when they're arrested. Bail bondsmen get a lot of calls from friends or roommates, mainly because no kid wants to call his parents from jail. Usually though, parents have to get involved if bail is required. Even though college friends want to help, most don't have the means to pay the full bail amount and often don’t qualify for a bail bond from a bail company.
A bail agent usually insists that a parent or family member get involved to vouch for the student and take responsibility for making sure he'll show up in court. Generally, parents and grandparents know the student best and know that the matter will be addressed seriously. Distance isn't a problem: bail agents work with clients around the world by phone, email, and fax. Most take credit cards and can handle wire transfers and other payment methods. When necessary, a bail bondsman may even arrange a payment plan.
When you contact a bail agent, be prepared to answer some questions about yourself, the student, and share some financial information. The bail bond interview process may seem intrusive, but it’s a necessary part of determining risk. If the person getting bailed out doesn't show up in court, the bail bond agent, and ultimately the person who bailed him or her out, is liable for the full bail amount. Agents have to be very careful and make sure they're dealing with people who will take responsibility for the situation and keep their promises to appear in court.
For parents, it's terrifying to have a child in jail and even worse if the jail is out of state. But bail bond agents can help you 24 hours a day no matter where you're located. They'll explain how bail bonds work, provide payment options, and advise you on whether you even need to start the bail bond process.
Most Arrests Involve Alcohol or Drug Offenses
Unfortunately, alcohol abuse is about as common as skipping classes on college campuses – and may actually cause absences. According to studies compiled at CollegeDrinkingPrevention.gov, 25% of college students report that excessive drinking has caused academic problems. The same web site reports that: "…an estimated 110,000 students a year are arrested for an alcohol-related violation such as driving under the influence or public drunkenness."
Drinking problems aren't limited to campuses. A substantial number of students become involved in bar fights, heated disagreements at sporting events, and similar altercations, with almost 700,000 cases of alcohol-related assaults reported each year. When students combine their inexperience with alcohol with fluctuating hormones and overly emotional responses to events, the result is often an arrest on alcohol and/or assault charges.
Even so, most parents expect college students to experiment with alcohol. They're far more frightened when a child is arrested on drug charges. Parents are shocked at the thought of a child using drugs and worried about the consequences. Besides the obvious health concerns, the penalties for drug offenses can be much more severe than for alcohol-related charges.
Minor Offenses May Not Require Bail
Depending on the offense, a bail bond may not be necessary. Students are often arrested, booked, and then released with a citation to appear in court – called a "cite out."
Authorities are most likely to issue "cite-outs" when dealing with relatively minor offenses like public drunkenness or a basic DUI. "Basic" means that the person doesn’t have a history of DUI arrests, there was no accident involved, no minors in the vehicle, no leaving the scene, resisting arrest, etc. In those cases, the police will often keep the offenders for 8-10 hours until they're sober enough to leave with a promise to appear in court. However, expect to post bail in cases where there's a felony or serious misdemeanor involved.
In a minor case, the bail bond agent may recommend that you not post bail. If the student is likely to be released quickly anyway, a bail bond is a waste of money. That's a good reason to find a local and reputable bail bondsman who understands the policies and procedures of area jails. They can't give you legal advice, but they can help you navigate through the jail system.
And remember, neither a bail bond nor a "cite-out" means that someone is cleared of all charges. The legal process is just beginning. The student will probably still be required to appear in court, may need an attorney, could still stand trial, and may have to pay a fine, perform community service, take classes, or even serve jail time.
Parents worried about letting their kids off the hook by bailing them out of jail can relax. An encounter with the police, jail system, and court process teaches a hard lesson that most kids never, ever forget.
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- Tonya Page in Bondsman & Owner