The bail bonds industry in the United States is comprised of more than 1,800 individual businesses that employ nearly 6,700 people in nearly every state. Revenues for the bail industry were around $698 million as of Q2 2012, representing an increase of 1.4 percent over the same year amount for Q2 2011. The bail industry’s primary responsibility is to provide a surety bond (guaranty) against an individual’s promise to appear in court to face criminal charges. Bonds issued by bail bond companies are typically set at a rate of 10 percent of the required bail amount established in a state court or 15 percent of the bail amount for federal charges.
The laws governing the bail industry in the United States vary from state to state. Rights given to individuals acting as surety for prisoners and accused individuals awaiting a court hearing (including the right to pursue and capture a person who absconds from custody) are provided in the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the respective states in which a bondsperson may operate. The industry, as a whole, is experiencing some downturn as various jurisdictions are experimenting with alternative methods for pre-trial release.
For decades, the system of commercial bail has been used across the country as a way to ensure compliance with the pre-trial requirements of criminal defendants. Opponents of the commercial bail bond industry, such as the ACLU, argue that the current system allows for profiteering by the bail industry at the expense of the poor. Released on their own recognizance and unsecured personal bonds are some of the alternatives that are being used for lower income defendants as a way to remove the barrier to access that forces poor criminal defendants to become trapped in the criminal justice system.
Changes to the bail laws in 40 states came about as a result of the Bail Reform Act of 1984. The changes were necessitated by a loophole in the prior reform act, passed twenty years prior in 1964, that took away a judge’s ability to consider if the release of a criminal defendant posed a risk or danger to the community. This change seemed a benefit for the industry; however, economic conditions of late have created a challenge for the bail industry. As a 125 percent rise in the personal savings rate in 2008 caused more individuals facing a criminal proceeding to use their personal resources, the industry experienced a decline in revenues of 22.2 percent. This decline turned around in 2011 and 2012 as savings began to decline, and industry analysts now expect the demand for commercial bail bonds to pick up.
As the number of crimes committed in the United States—particularly those requiring a bail bond—continues to decline and more jurisdictions turn to alternative pre-trial conditions that do not include imposing bail, the industry will continue to face a decline in revenues. The glamorization of the bail bonds industry, through shows such as “Dog the Bounty Hunter” on the A&E Network, have also created mix feelings about the need for this industry and its importance within the criminal justice system.
Thurman Fraser writes on law, business, finance, banking, commerce, international relations, accounting and other related areas. Thurman encourages those who have an interest in business and finance to check out the financial analyst jobs with moneyjobs.com.
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