California bail agents are working to process a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that could decimate their industry. The new system, which would virtually eliminate payment of money as a condition of release, could spell doom not only for bail agents, bounty hunters and surety companies across the state, but also a $2-billion bail industry nationwide, the Los Angeles Times reports. Reform in California, which holds about a quarter of the market, could prompt other states to take similar action, bail groups and lobbyists said. A day after Brown signed the bill, bail associations filed a voter referendum in an attempt to block it, asking for support from the very criminal justice groups and activists they’ve long been at odds with.
Some agents are scrambling to find new careers, closing up shop or weighing whether to move their businesses out of state. In Los Angeles County, home to the nation’s largest jail system, Lipstick Bail Bonds co-owner Teresa Golt expects to see storefronts shutter up and down bail row. The new law grants greater power to courts and probation departments to decide who should remain incarcerated ahead of trial. Under the new system, many people will be let go solely on a promise to return to court, while others could be placed on monitoring devices or remain incarcerated without any possibility of release under a practice known as “preventive detention.” The American Bail Coalition has three months to gather 366,000 signatures needed to qualify the referendum for the November 2020 ballot. Some in the business warned that as bail companies and sureties attempt to stay afloat, some agents could write more bonds and aggressively collect on debts in a final push for profits before industry extinction.