(OPINION) Bail Reform: Why Don’t They Listen?

Behind the Paper with Eric Granof

If you have been paying attention to what is going on with the Bail Reform movement across the country, then you for sure you heard what is going on in Harris County, Texas. A couple months ago, a Federal judge issued an order stating that no misdemeanor defendant could be detained because of lack of money. Therefore, all defendants are now required to sign an affidavit at the time of their booking stating how much they could afford to pay for bail. If they identify that they are indigent, they will be released on a personal recognizance bond. Additionally, these new arrestees can only be held for 24 hours. After the 24-hour period has expired, even if the court has not determined the validity of the indigence claim, all defendants must be released on their own recognizance.

While this policy might sound appealing if you are a criminal defendant, it should scare the bejeezus out of you if you are a citizen of Harris County. Why? Because every bit of research done shows that when you release people on their own recognizance with a personal bond, they don’t show up for court. Just look at the numbers so far…OR releases have a failure to appear rate of over 30% and surety bonds have one under 5%…which method do you think works best? And don’t even get me going on what happens when people don’t show up for court…because it isn’t good.

So if you live in Harris County, lock your doors and keep your children inside because a crime wave is coming. And just for the record, you are all probably thinking to yourself, why would our representatives let this happen? Why wouldn’t someone tell them or warn them that this would be the outcome if they did this? The sad reality is that someone did try to say something. Even when they were not asked, someone tried to warn our representatives that this was a bad idea.

That someone was the bail industry and unfortunately for every citizen in Harris County…no one listened. Check out this recent article about these failed changes to Harris County’s criminal justice system.

This seems to be a common theme with the entire bail reform movement across the country. No one asks and no one listens. They talk about “comprehensive” and “inclusive” committees that study pretrial release, but none of them ever include representatives from the bail industry. Even the Federal Court case in Harris County… when the bail industry tried to intervene and have a say in what was happening, they were turned away. When asked about having the bail industry be involved in the discussion to properly explain the process and how it works, the judge replied, “I don’t even want to go there.” Harris County essentially put the bail industry on trial, yet didn’t even allow a single testimony from a bail agent during the hearings.

This same thing seems to happen everywhere where bail is under attack. People claim the system is broken. They claim that it is unfair to the poor. And when the bail industry stands up and says, ‘wait a minute let’s first look at why the system is the way it is. Let’s understand why judges set financial conditions of bail in the first place. Let’s understand why financially secured bail works and the role that bail agents play in the process to ensure that justice is served for all in the criminal justice system.’ The result is the same everywhere….crickets!!! No one is listening to the one person in the room that knows more about how bail works than anyone….the bail agent.

Harris County officials are surprised when they see an FTA rate over 30% for people released without a financially secured bond. The bail industry isn’t. Why? Because we told them this would happen.

New Jersey officials are confused as to why dangerous people are continuously being let out of jail to re-offend with no accountability after NJ lawmakers incorporated the futuristic Arnold Foundation computer algorithm risk assessments into their criminal justice system. The bail industry isn’t. Why? Because we told them this would happen.
California lawmakers are surprised that crime has skyrocketed after the passing of proposition 47 and that criminals have become so emboldened. The bail industry isn’t. Why? Because we told them this would happen.

At what point will the people who are in charge of keeping our communities safe have the best interest of the communities at heart? When will they start to listen to the experts when it comes to managing criminal defendants and ensuring accountability in the system? You might not like how bail agents look. You might not like how they dress. You might not like how they talk. But you cannot ignore the knowledge and experience they bring to the table when it comes to the criminal justice system and you cannot ignore the level of effectiveness in which they accomplish their job.

It is time for people to start listening. It is time for our lawmakers to bring the right stakeholders to the table if they truly want to solve the challenges we are facing in the criminal justice system and come to a solution that works. For far too long we have had to endure poor decisions and policies aimed at eliminating the bail industry, rather than solving the real problems in our criminal justice system…only to have the system revert back to the very bail industry it tried to eliminate and replace in the first place…why? Because it works…and by the way…we told them so…just as we always do.

– Eric Granof

More on Eric’s blog here – Behind the Paper with Eric Granof

published with the permission of the author