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Holder has it Wrong: More Government is Not the Answer for America’s Jails

Government bureaucrats in America have railed against the wide-spread use of privately-secured bail bonds and instead promoted a complete government takeover of this sector that would put taxpayers on the hook for releasing criminals from jail rather than bail bondsman. Now Attorney General Eric Holder is joining the fray and arguing against the successful public-private partnership system, in order to replace it with a government-run system where criminals are released according to their needs instead of their means. Holder is making this case despite the facts from his own Department of Justice proving him wrong.

Last week, speaking at the National Symposium on Pretrial Justice, Attorney General Holder said: “Many Americans accused of nonviolent or petty offenses remain in jail before trial simply because they cannot afford to post bail of even a few hundred dollars. Nearly two-thirds of inmates in county jails are awaiting trial, many for nonviolent crimes, at a huge cost to taxpayers. This link between financial means and jail time is troubling in its own right.”

Holder continued “Almost all of these individuals could be released and supervised in their communities – and allowed to pursue or maintain employment, and participate in educational opportunities and their normal family lives – without risk of endangering their fellow citizens.”

Jail populations in Americahave actually been declining. In fact, according to the Department of Justice, the number of individuals in jail has fallen from 785,536 in 2008 to 748,728 in 2010. Nationally, jail populations are at their lowest levels since 2005. The jail capacity rate is ten percentage points lower today than it was in 2006, falling from 96.3 percent to only 86.4 percent.

This is attributable to a number of factors including a falling crime rate and an increased use of private-sector bail. From the Department of Justice we know the use of commercial bail bonds has increased from 25 percent of releases in 1990 to over 40 percent in 2004. More people are contracting with private-sector bail agents to secure their release from jail, and the system does a good job of swiftly and safely releasing defendants from jail prior to their trial. If Holder’s criticism about the unfairness of commercial bail was correct, then jail populations would have increased and not decreased.

For years government bureaucrats have promoted the idea of eliminating bail bondsmen and encouraging the government to make the decision to release criminals on their own recognizance or on a government-issued deposit bonds. The result of this government-run system has been predictable: a large number of criminals failed to appear in court and government officials failed to track them down.

For example, Philadelphia virtually eliminated commercial bail in the early 1970’s and has produced over 40,000 fugitives. Philadelphia taxpayers are now owed over $1 billion in forfeited bonds.

Less defendants remain fugitives due to the efficiency of the private-sector and because bail bondsmen have “skin in the game.” The bail agent will be out thousands of dollars if a criminal fails to show up for court. In the government model, there is less incentive to keep track of offenders because every fugitive represents one less person that a bureaucrat has to supervise.

Recent Department of Justice studies also show that government-run bail does not have a strong track record of adequately controlling jail populations. Washington,D.C., which is often used as the model for government-run bail, has actually seen their jail population increase over the last two years. D.C. jails were 79.6 percent full in 2008 and over 94 percent full today.  In addition, jails that use government-run bail in Harris County, TX, Philadelphia, PA, and Baltimore, MD, all have jail population rates much higher than the national average.

Attorney General Holder’s argument that jails are filling up with criminals who are a victim of our private-sector bail system does hold up against the statistics from his own department. Furthermore, his stance against private-sector bail in favor of government-run bail will force taxpayers to subsidize the release of criminals from jail and will decrease public safety as more criminals will fail to appear in court and become fugitives. Hopefully the Attorney General will look at the facts and come to the correct conclusion that we should not replace our current privately-run system that helps maintain criminal accountability. Government-run bail is a failed model that has proven to increase fugitives, crime and jail populations.

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  1. You have noted very interesting points! ps nice web site.

    June 11, 2012

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