CA’s for-profit bail system is morally bankrupt

Every year nearly 1 million people are arrested in CA and booked into county jails. Their freedom to go home hinges on whether or not they can afford bail (the average bail in CA is $50,000). As a result of unrealistically high bails, 60% of people in jails nationally are legally innocent. They haven’t been found guilty of any crime, but they can’t afford bail so they sit in jail until their trial.

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Others may opt to work with for-profit bail companies to have those entities put up their bail. Bail bondsmen require a nonrefundable fee, usually about 10-15% of the bail, and they put up the rest. This type of commercial bond is a three-party contract between the defendant, the court, and the bond agent. The bond agent agrees to forfeit the bail amount if the defendant fails to appear in court. On the streets surrounding any local jails there will be a proliferation of bonds businesses advertising their services.


The US is one of only two countries (the other is the Philippines) that allows private bail trade. As one would expect this a very lucrative and profitable business. The for-profit bond industry is estimated to be worth more than $2 billion with upwards of 15,000 bail agents across the country. The 8th amendment is noted for its ban on cruel and unusual punishment, but also tucked in the constitutional language is a ban on excessive bails. This constitutional right is routinely flouted by courts in assigning bails. Instead of the severity of crime in determining the bail amount, it often depends on the jurisdiction in which one commits a crime that determines the bail.

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The for-profit bond reform movement has been swiftly moving throughout the country. Two dozen states have already adopted legislation geared at tackling this issue. Currently, Legislation is making it’s way through CA that would reform the for-profit bail system.

The CA proposal would establish a county-by-county review board that would oversee defendant’s cases and their likely public safety risk when they’re arrested before giving courts recommendations about the terms of releases. The Bill would direct the review boards to base any release decision on whether someone is likely to re-offend or show up in court. This piece of legislation is a good start in the right direction of equalizing treatment for all. In our current system it’s better to be rich and guilty than poor and innocent.

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