A new law eliminating cash bail for most crimes in New York could put more than half of the state’s bail-bond companies out of business, industry leaders tell the Wall Street Journal. Judges are prohibited from requiring bail of pretrial defendants for misdemeanors and nonviolent felony charges under new regulations that took effect Jan. 1. Backers of the changes say they prevent people who are accused of minor crimes from languishing in jails simply because they can’t afford bail. Instead, defendants are released and told to return to court for their trials. Critics say the changes free repeat offenders to commit more crimes while they await hearings. “As far as [the industry’s] being a viable business, say goodbye,” said Bernardo-Goldstein & Quinn Agency President Jay Bernardo, who has worked at the Albany bail bond company for 20 years. The family’s 60-year-old company has shed half of its dozen employees, with further shrinkage to come as fewer accused criminals seek bail under the new law.
Bernardo heads the New York State Bail Bondsman Association, which spent more than $100,000—along with national industry groups—to fight the new bail law. He said there are 212 licensed bail-bonds agents in New York. Those agents generate revenue by charging fees in exchange for guaranteeing bail payments for family members of accused criminals in the event that the accused don’t return to court. New York State bail-bond companies employed 2,000 people in 2019, but that number may soon shrink drastically. American Bail Coalition Executive Director Jeff Clayton, whose group represents the national bail-bonds industry, said New York firms that insured $500 million in bail liabilities in 2019 will likely see revenues fall by half. “A lot of these people who were able to offer folks the right to bail now will go out of business,” he said. “That’s unfortunate.”