Is The Bail Industry To Blame For Jail Overcrowding?

Jail overcrowding has been a hot news item ever since the US Supreme Court ordered California to reduce its prisoner population. Unfortunately, that seems to have been easier said than done. Inmates sentenced to serve time in state prisons weren’t released early. Instead, low-level, non-sexual and non-serious offenders were transferred to county jails to serve out the remainder of their sentences. On one hand, this ensured the state complied with the high court’s order. On the other, it essentially solved one problem and created another. County jails are now bursting at the seams.

Now, it would seem the good people at the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) are suggesting the commercial bail industry is to blame for this problem. Jail overcrowding, they say, is the bail industry’s fault. PJI is claiming between 60% and 80% of county inmates are eligible for bond but remain in custody because they can’t afford one.

A recent blog by the President and CEO of Allegheny Casualty, International Fidelity and Associated Bond (AIA) Brian Nairin addressed those allegations directly.

He essentially asked PJI to “put their money where their mouth is”, and to produce the research behind those statistics. He also points out that Superior Court Judges, not bail bonds companies; are the ones who set inmate bail amounts.

Nairin believes that if PJI took a closer look at prisoner populations they’d see a far different picture than the one they’re painting. Most pretrial inmates, he said, are not in custody because they can’t afford a bond. They’re in custody because the court has deemed them to be ineligible to be bonded out. Some are considered to be too great a flight risk. Others may have been deemed to be too great a threat to society. There are also persons in custody who have “holds” which have been placed by varying agencies. If someone’s citizenship is in question, or if an arrestee has violated the terms of their parole or probation, there is a good chance they will not be granted the opportunity to bail out.

Inmates who have been arrested and have out of county warrants, he points out; are ineligible for bail. Inmates who have out of state warrants are ineligible for bail. People who have sentenced- are also not eligible for bail.

Nairin agrees that yes, jails are overcrowded, but to suggest the bail industry is the appropriate scapegoat is ridiculous. PJI has been advocating for the elimination of the commercial bail industry for years, he said. This would mean that arrestees would be released on their own recognizance and there would be no checks and balances in place to ensure they appear in court when required. When someone bails out, the bail bond company that posted their bond takes responsibility. If they fail, they need to write a check to the court. PJI, he notes, has no such system in place.


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Updated:  08/18/2012