New York, NY – President of NY State Bail Bond Association not impressed with NY Daily News “Opinion”

Bail on the bail bond industry – or bailing on accountability?

The New York Times recently ran an “opinion” by Nick Malinowski, the Civil Rights Campaign Director for VOCAL-NY, and Nasoan Sheftel-Gomes, supervising attorney for the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center.

The article, among other things, is a one-sided and demonizing view of the commercial bail bond industry. Riddled with the usual propaganda, the article gets straight to the point in the very first paragraph – accusing the private commercial bail bond industry of “leeching off the criminal justice system and preying on families when they are at their most vulnerable.”

Bail on the bail bond industry 

Of no surprise, Michelle Esquenazi, President of the New York State Bail Bond Association, has a completely opposing view…and she’s certainly not afraid to share it.

Bail on the bail bond industry? Not so fast.

by Michelle Esquenazi, President of the New York State Bail Bond Association and CEO, Empire Bail Bonds.

The New York Daily Times recently ran an article painting a grim picture of the bail bond industry. It might sound logical to those who have been fortunate enough to have never needed a bondsman. But logic doesn’t always mean truth, which is why I’m putting the “Bail on the Bail Bond Industry” article on trial.

Lucrative income isn’t a guarantee

Wildly lucrative,” “unaccountable private industry,” “extracts millions of dollars,” “most marginalized communities,” “leeching,” “preying,” “siphoned,” … these terms were sprinkled throughout the NYT article to build a case against the bail bond industry.

However, it should be noted that the state of New York (the same state mentioned in the NYT article) operates on one of the lowest statutory filed premiums rates in the nation.  A bail bond premium is historically considered to be 10%, but in NY that is untrue. For example, the premium on a 10k bond is $860.  The premium on a 5k bond is $460. Families are NEVER forced to pay the premium.  The 10% comment in this article shows that the authors did not do their homework. Otherwise, they’d know NY is a 6% state. The premium is certainly not “wildly lucrative”, and the bail agent assumes 100% of the liability for the FULL face amount of the bond.

Bondsmen do NOT extract millions of dollars, or even cents. They offer a valuable service to all communities throughout the USA for the accused.  Not one consumer of bail is EVER forced to pay their loved one’s bail bond premium; rather, that is a choice on behalf of the family, which, by the way, with the opioid epidemic as nationally far gone as it is, more and more family members choose to leave their loved ones incarcerated to protect them from themselves, their families, and their communities, as well as give them a true chance to detox.

The real predators of “low-income communities of color” aren’t bondsmen.

As the New York Daily Times’ article states, “The commercial bail bonds industry siphoned as much as $20 million in premiums in 2016 from predominantly low-income communities of color…”

Although it is true that the majority of arrestees are minorities, that is in NO way the fault of the bail industry. Instead of focusing on taxpayer funded bail programs that reward recidivists, why isn’t the government funding programs for at-risk youth in these communities to AVOID recidivism?

In other words, keep community centers open until 9 pm so the single moms that raise our inner city kids can work full time.  Ensure the protection of these buildings with all branches of retired law enforcement, so as to promote comradery and unity amongst officers and the communities that they serve. Serve balanced lunches and dinners. Have magnetometers at the doors to avoid any weapons being brought on premise.  This would send a clear message to the gang leaders that our inner city kids are not available to be their next mule.

Instead of focusing on taxpayer funded bail programs that reward recidivists, why isn’t the government funding programs for at-risk youth in these communities to AVOID recidivism?

Marginalized communities need “out of the box” political leaders and legislators to help them!  The bail agent is oftentimes Mom’s first call when Little Johnny is acting up…bondsmen are available 24/7, unlike the government.

Do your own research

I was shocked to see the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund pop up as a research source in this article – were you? You might be if you knew this “fund” was set up to funnel money through… tax free! It was established by a hedge fund guy that has found a new philanthropic form of rhetoric.

I’ll take a break from my defense here and mention that some bondsmen’s actions are inexcusable. Retaining bond premiums when the defendant isn’t released from jail is NOT common practice for our industry, and most bondsmen do not use that model as a form of practice. There’s a bad egg every now and then, but that’s no different than any other industry.

It’s also worth mentioning that there is ABSOLUTELY ZERO proven scale for indigence when it comes to bail funds or the assignment of taxpayer-funded legal representation in court.  Any offender can say they are poor to obtain free services, as well as extend the time of the case. In which case that legal aid takes approximately two years to dispose of a felony case due to systemic overload.

Are bail bonds necessary, even a little bit?

The reason judges use commercial surety bonds for the majority of bail settings is because bondsmen do such an amazing job statistically at ensuring a defendant’s appearance in court. Therefore, the District Attorney does not have to sentence that offender in absentia.

Bonding is risk assessment. In other words, if there is a defendant that is wholly American,  lives in the same county and state for an extended period of time and has family ties, he/she is much less of a flight risk.  If an accused offender has ties to other countries and limited ties to family and community, he/she is a greater flight risk for a bond.

When a state shifts to bail programs (like New Jersey has), the cost of releasing criminal offenders is shifted onto law-abiding taxpayers. Through these “Bail Programs” the taxpayer ultimately funds the release of offenders, which means the law-abiding citizens pay for criminal release AND criminal defense with ZERO oversight!

As a bondsman, I can tell you that a bond does more than get you out of jail. It gives you and your family fresh hope and a second chance. These are things that many of the people we help would never experience otherwise.

In Closing

In addition to what I’ve already mentioned, you should know that the bail bond industry is a highly regulated one that’s monitored by the New York Department of Financial Services. Which makes it the exact opposite of unaccountable.

And as for that bit about leaching and preying, remember that those who need a bail bondman seek them out, not the other way around. Bail bonds exist if you need them, and keep quiet when you don’t. It’s that simple.