When a judge sets a financial bond the person receiving the bond theoretically has the option to pay the amount in full to the court. Unfortunately, most people do not have the expendable funds necessary to do this and are forced to rely on a for-profit bail bond company to post their bond. For-profit bond companies typically charge a non-refundable fee for their services. Although fee amounts can vary, the typical fee is 10 percent of the entire bond amount and is non-refundable even in instances where the case is dismissed or where the accused is found not guilty.
The for-profit bail bond industry makes large profits from the fees it charges. Conservative estimates show that the industry makes approximately $2 billion in profits annually by posting $14 billion in bonds across the country. Because the industry is so lucrative for the individual bondsmen, the bond companies, and the insurance industry that underwrites them, the industry is engaged in a large, organized lobbying campaign to promote the use and existence of private bail bonds. Since 2002 to 2011 the industry donated more than $3 million to local and national political campaigns and has actively and vigorously campaigned against state legislative bills that would deprioritize the use of financial bonds in bail. These bills are perceived as an existential threat by the bail industry, and as a result, the industry has committed itself to opposing bail reform measures at all costs, including using false and misleading data, statistics and arguments to support its position.
It’s important to note that the United States is one of only two countries (the other is the Philippines) that allows for a private bail bond industry. All other countries have decided against having private, for-profit bail companies involved in their legal system because of the numerous unethical practices it tends to involve. To date, four states prohibit for-profit bail for exactly that reason: Oregon, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kentucky. Although the federal system still allows for for-profit bail bondsmen, unlike most state courts, it tends to strictly follow federal statutes that promote release on the least restrictive conditions, including non-financial release.
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