Insurance companies have spent $17 million to defeat proposals to weaken or abolish the for-profit bail industry in the United States, a system that brings insurers $15 billion in business a year, reports Reuters. The spending has jumped more than 10-fold since 2010 as insurers have led the industry’s lobbying effort, targeting laws in more than a dozen states. The insurance industry has succeeded in beating back measures in various states, allowing insurers to increase sales even as public pressure grows to reduce or eliminate cash bail. In 2019, bail insurers increased premium income by 8 percent. Insurers and bail agents say their services keep communities safe from violent criminals while protecting the constitutional right to pretrial release for the accused.
Critics of for-profit bail – which exists only in the United States and the Philippines – say it often becomes a debt trap for poor defendants, who are disproportionately minorities. Some borrow money for their bond fees from bail agents on installment plans at high interest rates. The American Civil Liberties Union told Reuters it has seen rates of about 30 percent. That can leave defendants repaying long after their court cases are closed. The gross profit margin of bail bonds, after paying claims and related expenses but before other costs, averages 83 percent, compared with 33 percent for insurers covering autos and homes and the industry has consolidated in recent years, with the top six bail insurers now controlling 76 percent of the market. The industry has also battled bail eradication efforts in Florida, Texas, Colorado, New York and other states over the past 10 years. In that time, bail industry spending on lobbying, campaigns and candidate contributions soared to more than $23 million, from $4 million in the prior decade.