Opinion

Beware unintended consequences of bail reform

In this photo taken Tuesday, July 7, 2015, a bail bonds sign hangs on the side of a bail bonds business near Brooklyn's courthouse complex and jail in New York.
In this photo taken Tuesday, July 7, 2015, a bail bonds sign hangs on the side of a bail bonds business near Brooklyn's courthouse complex and jail in New York. AP

In response to the recent news story “Is Durham’s bail-bond system unconstitutional? Why the judge said wait” (May 28, 2018):

It is irresponsible and dangerous for attorney Allyn Sharp to argue that cash bail is “cruel and unusual punishment” in regard to her client’s statutory rape charge. District attorneys across the country have agreed not to seek bail for certain non-violent crimes. While this policy typically applies only to misdemeanors, Sharp apparently wants to add statutory rape to the list.

Unfortunately, Sharp's request is in good company. Like other misguided bail reformers, she fails to acknowledge that failure-to-appear rates have skyrocketed 40 percent in some jurisdictions that have passed bail-reform acts, leaving unaccounted-for defendants in communities and exhausting police resources.

Do we really want criminal defendants — and, in this specific case, an accused statutory rapist — roaming the streets of our communities without supervision, the consequences that come from skipping bail or failing in the conditions of their release?

Don Mescia.jpg
Don Mescia is the executive director of United Bail of America.

If Santana Deberry is elected district attorney for Durham County, she should study the impact bail reform has had in states that have instituted these practices. Here’s a hint: The consequences have been drastic and unintended.

Cities like Baltimore, St. Louis and Spokane have seen pretrial incarceration rates increase since implementing bail reform policies at 26 percent, 21 percent and 17 percent, respectively. This means that far more defendants — regardless of their ability to pay bail — are languishing in jail, waiting for their day in court. The result is a rise in mass incarceration, the very thing bail reformers are trying to prevent.

What’s more, New Mexico and Iowa introduced bail reform, only to regret it. In fact, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez warned of the “devastating results,” calling the failed experiment an aggravation to “catch and release, revolving door justice system[s].”

Surety agents, like those who are members of United Bail of America (UBA), offer a series of pretrial services to defendants at a lower cost than government-funded programs, including counsel on the conditions of bond, help finding employment, relocation, drug testing and review of defendant conduct while on bail. Our agents have even waived the initial premium, allowing it to be paid over time instead, and with no interest, simply to help their client. Personal interviews with potential clients ensure our agents have a financial interest in the successful behavior and appearance of their clients in court.

There are certain criminal justice reforms we can all agree on: increased treatment alternatives for drug offenders, sentencing reductions, educational programming, re-entry services, reduced sanctions for technical violations, restored rights after a time limit and speedier trials. But as the data proves, eliminating cash bail is not a relevant addition to the list.

The bail system and surety agents protect the state by keeping the burden of funding pretrial services off the backs of taxpayers; protect citizens by making sure the accused comply with the conditions of bail and face the court; and protect the accused by providing counsel and support during what can be a confusing and trying time. There are no better guardians of the criminal justice system than surety agents.

Don Mescia is the executive director of United Bail of America

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