Thursday, January 21, 2010

Real Journalism Exposes Bail Bond Corruption

It is far to infrequently that I actually find real journalism. Here is a great example of a journalist doing their job and informing the public of how corrupt the bail bond system is in practice. It isn't surprising NPR is behind this journalism as they actually run their organization in a way that allows true journalism unlike so many other "news" organizations. Sponsor NPR.

Bail Burden Keeps U.S. Jails Stuffed With Inmates

"Follow the money," Henderson says. "Usually whenever you've got questions of money, you follow the money and they'll tell you the reasons why some things operate."

He says the bail bondsmen don't want to see his program receive anything more than limited funding. The bondsmen "make money and they contribute their influence," Henderson says. "I would do more if we had the funding to do more." It's not that Lubbock's bondsmen want Henderson's clients. They don't. Henderson's clients can't afford a bondsman's fees.

But Henderson says the bondsmen lobby to keep his program as small and unproductive as possible, so that no paying customers slip though — even if that means thousands of inmates like Raymond Howard and Leslie Chew wait in jail at taxpayer expense, because they never find the money to become paying customers.

"The bonding companies make a living," Henderson says. "That's just the nature of Texas and Lubbock."

But it's not just Texas and Lubbock. Industry experts and a review of national lobbying efforts by NPR show that pretrial release programs across the country are increasingly locked in a losing battle with bonding companies trying to either limit their programs or shut them down entirely.

As Henderson walks back downstairs, he stops and reads the sign above the door in the lobby. It says: Protecting our community by changing lives. "Jail doesn't do anybody any good," he says. "The only thing that jail is good for is to keep the dangerous people in the community away from the people who don't pose a risk."

But that is not who is in the nation's jails. According to the Justice Department, two-thirds of the people in the nation's jails are petty, nonviolent offenders who are there for only one reason: They can't afford their bail.
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Bondsmen's main responsibility is to bring defendants back to court if they fail to show up. But it turns out that many bondsmen aren't doing this job.

Statistically, most bail jumpers are not caught by bondsmen or their bounty hunters. They're caught by sheriff's deputies, according to Beni Hemmeline from Lubbock's district attorney's office.

"More often than not, the defendants are rearrested on a warrant that's issued after they fail to appear," Hemmeline said.

Asked if the bondsmen are fulfilling their end of the deal, Hemmeline says, "Well, it may be that [the bondsmen] can't find them. They can't camp at the door 24 hours a day. They do the best that they can, I think."

If a defendant does run, the bondsman is also supposed to pay the county the full cost of the bond as a sort of punishment for not keeping an eye on the client.

But that doesn't happen, either, Hemmeline says.

Hemmeline says Lubbock usually settles for a far lower amount than the full bond. In fact, according to the county treasurer in Lubbock, bondsmen usually only pay 5 percent of the bond when a client runs.

Consider that math for a minute. The bondsmen charge clients at least 10 percent. But if the client runs, they only have to pay the county 5 percent. Meaning if they make no effort whatsoever, they still profit. Hemmeline says asking for more might put the bondsmen out of business.


"Bond companies serve an important purpose," she says.

NPR found bondsmen getting similar breaks in other states. In California, bondsmen owe counties $150 million that they should have had to pay when their clients failed to show up for court. In New Jersey, bondsmen owe $250,000 over the past four years. In Erie, Pa., officials stopped collecting money for a time because it was too much of a hassle to get the bonding companies to pay up.

It is possible to skip the commercial bail bonding business entirely by just paying cash. Show up for court and you get your cash back. But it turns out that this is not as easy as it sounds. It takes hours longer to post a cash bail. And many people, like Sandy Ramirez, don't even know that it's an option.

Ramirez came to Lubbock Bail Bond for her 18-year-old son, who was arrested after getting into a scuffle with his friends. They were charged with public mischief. Her son was given $750 bail.

She says neither the district attorney's office, the judge nor the court clerk told her she could leave cash with the court as a deposit and get it back when the case was over.

"I never knew that," Ramirez says. "That's awful not to know that."

Lubbock Bail Bond tacked on some additional fees for, among other things, paying on a payment plan. In the end, she owes the company $260 — more than half the cost of the bond. Two weeks after the scuffle, prosecutors dropped all the charges against the teens. But two months later, she's still paying the bail bondsman.


Related: Death of Newsprint - Police Failing to Enforce Law If Lawbreaker is a Police Officer - Watching the Watchmen - Photographers are not a Threat - Buying Favors from Politicians - Lobbyists Pay Congressmen to Keep Taxes Off Billion Dollar Private Equities Deals and on For Our Grandchildren

1 comment:

Scott said...

This is one of the most ground-breaking news stories I have ever heard. I think a lot of people will be just as surprised as me at the human rights issues in America's bond/jail system!!