While the bail bondsmen’s lobby generally receives little attention, they are using political clout to further their interests at great expense to taxpayers across the country.
Advances in GPS technology have allowed judges the option to release non-violent suspected criminals before their trials, wearing ankle bracelets to keep track of their whereabouts. Pretrial release programs can save localities millions of dollars annually compared to the cost of holding suspects in prison. Pretrial release also allows citizens to continue with their daily routines while they await trial and often prevents personal financial hardship as a result.
NPR’s Laura Sullivan reports:
It wasn’t just the money that made the program valuable. Three years ago, the Broward County jail was so full, a judge called the conditions unconstitutional.
Instead of building a new $70 million jail as they had proposed, county commissioners voted to expand pretrial release, letting more inmates out on supervised release. Within a year, the jail population plunged, so much so that the sheriff closed an entire wing. It saved taxpayers $20 million a year.
However, the program in Broward County, Florida was severely cut back after the bondsmen’s lobby pressured the commissioners to protect their profits:
According to campaign records… bondsmen spread almost $23,000 across the council in the year before the bill was passed. Fifteen bondsmen cut checks worth more than $5,000 to commissioner and now-county Mayor Ken Keechl just five days before the vote.
Aside from the expense to taxpayers that holding suspects before their trials imposes, another NPR story in the same series explains that releasing inmates on bail disadvantages low-income prisoners:
People with money get out. They go back to their jobs and their families, pay their bills and fight their cases. And according to the Justice Department and national studies, those with money face far fewer consequences for their crimes.
People without money stay in jail and are left to take whatever offer prosecutors feel like giving them.