Local governments are owed tens of millions of dollars from bail bonds that were forfeited after criminal defendants failed to appear for court dates, says USA Today. Prosecutors and bail bondsmen blame the problem in part by overburdened courts that do not pursue many of the roughly 10,000 criminal defendants who skip bond each year. They say amounts owed to governments appear to have jumped in the past five years largely because of dramatic changes in the bail bond industry. Bondsmen help arrestees win release in return for a non-refundable fee, often 10 percent of the bail set by the court. Bondsmen and their insurers guarantee to pay the full amount of the bail if the freed defendant fails to show up for his next court hearing. Before writing bonds, bondsmen usually want defendants to show they have a job, own property, or have other community ties that suggest they will not flee.
In recent years, industry veterans say, new companies in the bail bond industry have exploited lax oversight by local governments to write bonds for increasing numbers of high-risk defendants, including illegal immigrants and those who have skipped bond before. Seven insurance companies have declared bankruptcy rather than pay forfeited bonds after defendants failed to appear. The new agents largely have abandoned pursuing such defendants, leaving the task of recapturing the defendants to local authorities. “The (dollar) numbers are astounding,” says Alan Henry of the Pretrial Services Resource Center, a group in Washington, D.C., that studies bail trends. The criminal justice system “has allowed commercial bonding to become a very lucrative business with very little accountability.”