The image of the bail bondsman who brings fugitives to justice is a familiar and powerful one; unfortunately, it’s more fiction than fact. In this report, we explain why the central tenet of the industry — that “it provides a public service at no cost to the taxpayer” — is a lie that the industry uses to defend its profitable position in the American criminal legal system. In reality, bail bond companies and their deep-pocketed insurance underwriters are almost always able to avoid accountability when they fail to do their one job - to ensure their clients’ appearance in court. The result? They get richer, defendants get poorer, and local law enforcement does their job for them, returning defendants to court on the taxpayer’s dime.

When their clients do not appear in court, bail companies are supposed to fulfill their obligations and pay the “forfeited” bail bonds. But journalists and local government officials around the country have independently discovered that their particular city or county is owed thousands or even millions from bond agents for unpaid bail bonds that have been ordered forfeit. Many of these jurisdictions have yet to put together that this is not simply a local problem, but a systemic problem with commercial money bail — and one that has been intentionally created by the bail industry to protect its profits.

This report brings together evidence from jurisdictions around the country, as well as from previous research, to show that the system is dysfunctional by design, benefitting the commercial bail bond industry far more than its clients or the public. Every bail company’s primary goal is to maximize their own returns, and paying a client’s bond when he or she fails to appear in court runs contrary to that goal. As this report shows, bail companies will not pay forfeitures unless they are forced, and forcing these well-resourced companies to pay what they owe costs counties a great deal of time and money — especially when the bail industry continues to lobby for and defend the legal loopholes that allow them to avoid accountability.

This report presents and explains:

  • The six major practical, legal, and procedural loopholes that the industry exploits and works to expand, which keep them from having to pay up when defendants don’t appear in court;
  • A compilation of previously isolated examples of investigatory research, news stories, and illuminating statements from government and industry actors, which together show a pattern of problems with commercial bail systems avoiding accountability across at least 28 states; and
  • An argument that these problems are likely to exist in every state that allows commercial bail companies to post bonds, and details suggesting where concerned citizens and officials might look for problems in their own jurisdictions.

Read the full article about the bail bond industry by Wendy Sawyer at Prison Policy Initiative.