Commercial Bail Bonds Called “A Very American Invention”


The U.S. practice of having bail posted for people accused of crimes in exchange for a fee, is all but unknown in the rest of the world, reports the New York Times. In other countries, agreeing to pay a defendant's bond in exchange for money is a crime akin to witness tampering or bribing a juror – a form of obstruction of justice. “It's a very American invention,” said John Goldkamp, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University, about the commercial bail bond system. “It's really the only place in the criminal justice system where a liberty decision is governed by a profit-making businessman who will or will not take your business.” Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, and Wisconsin have abolished commercial bail bonds, relying instead on systems that require deposits to courts instead of payments to private businesses, or that trust defendants to return for trial.

Most of the legal establishment hates the bail bond business, saying it discriminates against poor and middle-class defendants, does nothing for public safety, and usurps decisions that ought to be made by the justice system. The flaw most often cited by critics is that defendants who turn up for every court appearance are required to pay a nonrefundable fee to a private business, assuming they do not want to remain in jail. “Life is not fair, and I probably would feel the same way if I were a defendant,” said Bill Kreins of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States. The system costs taxpayers nothing, he said, and it is exceptionally effective at ensuring that defendants appear for court.


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