The Cost Of Housing Inmates Who Can't Make Bail

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Thousands of inmates are sitting in America's jails because they can't make bail, which sometimes is set at as little as $50. Housing them while they await trial is estimated to cost taxpayers $9 billion this year alone. NPR's Crime and Punishment Correspondent, Laura Sullivan, joins Talk of the Nation to discuss the business of bail bonds.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Half a million people sit in jail because they can't make bail; alleged criminals, for sure, but men and women the Constitution protects as innocent until proven guilty. Most of them are charged with petty, nonviolent crimes. Some will wait behind bars for as long as year before their case - make it to court. It costs taxpayers billions every year to house them. You may have heard some of the stories on the bail system by NPR crime and punishment correspondent Laura Sullivan, on MORNING EDITION and ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

She spoke with inmates, bail bondsman, public defenders, prosecutors and others. Today, she joins us to talk about the business of bail. Later in the hour, Scott Roeder's on trial for the murder of Dr. George Tiller, who operated an abortion clinic in Wichita, Kansas. We'll talk with GQ correspondent Devin Friedman, who wrote a double profile called Savior versus Savior.

But first, if you have direct experience with bail as a defendant, judge, public defender or prosecutor, call and tell us what works and what doesn't. Tell us your story - 800-989-8255 is the phone number. The email address is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And NPR crime and punishment correspondent Laura Sullivan joins us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you with us today.

LAURA SULLIVAN: Thank you, pleasure to be here.

CONAN: And tell us - you told some stories of people who were in jail again, not convicted of a crime - who were spending months in jail, up to a year in jail, because they couldn't come up with, in one case, $150, $350.

SSULLIVAN: Exactly. I mean, I met in every single jail I went to, time and time again, I met dozens of inmates who were stuck behind bars because they couldn't come up with very small amounts. I mean, the amounts of money that really is, you know, to most people would not be a problem to come up with. But to these people, I mean, it was just there was no way they could come up with $300. One of them was Leslie Chew(ph), who admitted that he stole some blankets because he got cold and he was living out of his car. And because of that, he needed to come up with $350 bail.

His bail was actually $3,500, but he needed $350 to give to a bail bondsman - and he didn't have that money. And so at the time that I had met him, he had already been in jail almost six months. And that had cost taxpayers, at that point, about $6,000 or $7,000 just to house, clothe and feed him. And then by the time he left, he had been there nine months entirely.

CONAN: And over a year, all the Leslie Chews add up to

SULLIVAN: Nine billion dollars a year is what it costs. And that's because there's half a million people sitting in jail, right now, who can't make their bails.

CONAN: Well, not all of them are accused of stealing blankets. Some of them are accused of murder or rape, or other violent crimes.

SULLIVAN: That is true. But those people don't necessarily get bail. If you're accused of a violent crime and you have a violent history, most judges will not give you bail, period. And that is actually something that people argue for more, that that's the way it should be. If you do have that kind of situation, you're going to have a very, very high bail. But that is only up to about a third of the people that we're talking about. Two-thirds of them are sitting there for misdemeanor, petty crimes. And what I mean by that are drug offenses, public-nuisance charges, you know, just sort of nonviolent, misdemeanor stuff. So that's two-thirds of the people right now.

CONAN: And the bail bond system is, again, if you're arrested and they go before a judge and you're arraigned, and they said, oh, set bail at $10,000 -just to pick a number out of the air.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. It kind of works like this. Like, if you get arrested and, you know, you've been picked up and you get brought before a judge, the judge basically has three options. I mean, this is sort of the basic situation. He can say, I'm going to release you on your own recognizance; I'm going to trust you to show back up. I think that you're going to come back in a month, so be here. And you're free to go. Or he can say, I'm going to give you bail. I believe that it's going to - $1,000. If you give me $1,000, you give the court $1,000 - that you will show back up. And if you show back up, I'm going to give you your $1,000 back.

A lot of people won't have a thousand dollars, so they'll turn to a bail bondsman to pay it for them. And they'll pay a nonrefundable fee - usually, a couple hundred dollars to do that. And then the third option is something called pretrial release, which is sort of a newer, kind of county funded program, where you get out with some sort of supervision - surveillance, ankle bracelets, things like that.

CONAN: And that fourth option we talked about before - remand. No bail, you're just going to the

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

CONAN: ...to the pokey...

SULLIVAN: And right. And yeah, and exactly. If they say, this is a violent offender; we can't have this guy out in the public, you just go back to jail.

CONAN: And the bail bondsman system has been set up to ensure that people show up at their court day.

SULLIVAN: Exactly. It's interesting that the United States is one of only two countries in the world that has commercial bail bondsmen. Only us and Philippines have this sort of system. Every other country either uses some form of pre-trial release with supervision, court-monitored type of supervision, or you pay your money to the court and you get your money back when you show up. So, it's very unique to the United States.

CONAN: And indeed, you had found some people who are highly critical of the bail bond system, and saying a lot of people saying we could save an awful lot of money by releasing people with ankle bracelets, for example.

SULLIVAN: Exactly, because the pre-trial release is, you know, it became it sort of came up in the '80s and '90s. It only cost a couple dollars a day, taxpayer dollars per day. Jail costs, on average, $60 a day. In places like New York, it costs $198 a night to house somebody. So when you're talking about sending somebody out on an ankle bracelet for six bucks a day versus $198, and they have - for all intents and purposes - the same success rate at bringing people back to court, it becomes this question of what's best for taxpayers.

CONAN: Well, the other people the people who do skip their bail the bail bondsmen, if they've provided them bail, it's their job to bring that person back. And that's why we have bounty hunters.

SULLIVAN: That is their number one job, yes. The question is, are they really doing that job? And what I found over the course of the research for this story is that in a lot of cases and statistically, the majority of people who abscond from the system are not caught by bounty hunters or bail bondsman. They're brought back into court by sheriff's deputies, who serve warrants. They're pulled over. They some other crime, something happens, they crossed paths...

CONAN: Broken tail light.

SULLIVAN: Exactly. And they're hauled back in court by the sheriff's deputies, which taxpayers pay for. So, if the bondsman are statistically not really hauling these people back into court, it raises the question of well, if taxpayers are really paying for this, hauling them back in, what are the bondsmen doing for this fee that they're charging? And I think it's also important to remember that the vast majority of people who abscond, who don't show up for court, are people who have not who are not showing up because they sort of they flaked out. Their lives are chaos.

They meant to show up, but they didn't. And the vast majority of them call into the courthouse, show up at the courthouse or call the prosecutor's office within 24 hours. They're easy to find. It is like 1 or 2 or 3 percent, depending on the different jurisdiction, who actually abscond. I mean, there's somebody who actually flees to Mexico or leaves, even, the county. I mean, a lot of these people are just really poor and they've never been outside their county. And maybe they got scared, and they were afraid to show up to court. Bail bondsman and pre-trial release officials both told me, independently, that the number one way to get somebody to show up for court is to call them the night before.

CONAN: We're talking with Laura Sullivan, NPR's crime and punishment correspondent. Yes, she reads a lot of Russian novels.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: She is with us here in Studio 3A. We're talking about the bail bond system. You may have heard her reports on MORNING EDITION and ALL THINGS CONSIDERED recently. If you have direct experience as a defendant, as a judge, prosecutor, public defender, whatever, give us a call, 800-989-8255. We would like to hear from sheriffs, too. Email us, talk@npr.org. And let's turn to Greta(ph). Greta is calling us from Minneapolis.

GRETA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Greta.

GRETA: Hi. A point I wanted to bring up is just that there are plenty of people who and I work in the business. I work for one of the largest bail companies in Minnesota. And people come with the money all the time. The hardest part for most of our clients is coming up with a co-signer, which we always require no matter what the bond is. A co-signer needs to have decent credit and a full-time job. And plenty of people can come up with the bail money, they just can't come up with that portion, that person who needs to sign for them.

CONAN: And without a co-signer, you can't your company won't give them a bond?

GRETA: Exactly, because, you know, we're insuring that they're going to go to court. If they don't, we don't want to take the hit. Then the co-signer is liable. If it's a $10,000 bond, they pay us 1,000. If they don't go to court and they run, and we can never find them, then the co-signer is liable for that whole $10,000.

CONAN: I see, not the bail bond company, whose job it is to bring the person back.

GRETA: Well, yes, if they can't come up with it, or they file bankruptcy or, you know what I mean. That kind of stuff happens, too.

CONAN: Sure.

GRETA: That's why we always want a co-signer. And can I make one more point?

CONAN: Sure.

GRETA: A lot of these people are sitting in there also because their bail is set at $300 or $500. Companies like us won't do bonds that low. There's too much risk. The people think that it's not worth it, and so they end up not going to court. So we stopped doing bonds that small, but it's so hard for them to A, call somebody because everyone has cell phones, and they can't call them collect; and B, to get someone to just go post all that money because if it's $500, they have to post the whole 500 at the jail. So we know plenty of people who are just sitting in there because of that alone.

CONAN: And do you, if it's that kind of a story, do you provide them with any kind of advice, that there might be another agency they could turn to?

GRETA: No, but even though we can't do it for them, we at least my company we always make phone calls for them. We'll call anyone just because, you know, we do have a heart, and we understand that if they have no one to call, or they don't have the money to call somebody, we're happy to do that for them.

CONAN: It's got to be a difficult business to work in, Greta.

GRETA: Oh, it really is, especially when, you know, you're bailing out child molesters and murderers, and that stuff happens. But you know, at the end of the day, we're trying to help families.

CONAN: OK, Greta, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

GRETA: You're welcome. Thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate the insight into the business. And you were nodding as Greta was talking.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, she raised, I mean, two very interesting situations that come up with the bail-bonding industry. On the one hand, they're leaving. There are so many people with these $50, $100, $200 bonds that bail bondsmen just don't want to touch at all because it's not worth it to them.

You know, it's going to cost them several months of tracking them. They're going to have to chase them down or, you know, make phone calls, and they're really only going to make probably $100 on that. They don't really want that kind of bond. And that is what the vast majority of the nation's jails are full of, is these sort of low-level misdemeanor offenders.

The people that make the money for bail-bonding companies are felons, domestic violence cases, because the charges usually get dropped, and college kids who are backed by their parents and generally will show up when their parents tell them to.

So that you know, it's sort of an endemic problem, almost, to the bail-bonding industry because the vast majority of people who are stuck in jail with a very low bond who need to get out, who need to keep their jobs and keep their apartments, can't because a lot of bail bondsmen don't really want to take them.

CONAN: And this is, in an odd way, sort of an insurance policy. You're paying them 10 percent or more of the bond...

SULLIVAN: It's a fee.

CONAN: And it's a fee. And it's non-refundable.

SULLIVAN: Right.

CONAN: And if you do not show up, the bond the person who issues the bond is supposed to pay the court that amount of money, right?

SULLIVAN: In theory.

CONAN: In theory.

SULLIVAN: In theory. What has happened nationally, in some of the areas that I've surveyed, is that a lot of times, the courts will make a deal with the bonding company so you don't have to pay us the 100 percent. Just give us 5 or 10 percent.

CONAN: So we'll have more on that mathematics in just a minute, because this sounds like a pretty good deal. Laura Sullivan is with us. She's NPR's crime and punishment correspondent, 800-989-8255. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking about what happens to the upwards of 500,000 people who are charged with relatively small crimes but can't afford to post bail. NPR crime and punishment correspondent Laura Sullivan visited jails that are filled to capacity with men and women still innocent until proven guilty, who sit waiting for their day in court. She's with us here in Studio 3A today. You can listen to the full series at our Web site. There's a link at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

If you have direct experience with bail defendant, judge, public defender, prosecutor, sheriff what works, what doesn't? Tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Laura Sullivan, getting back to that arithmetic we were talking about just before the break: All right, I pay the bond issuer, the bondsman, 10 percent or more. That's a nonrefundable fee. They get to keep it. If I don't show up in jail, you were saying the judge says, well, you don't have to pay the whole 100 percent, Mr.´┐ŻBail Bondsman. You can pay 5 percent.

SULLIVAN: In the vast majority of counties in this county, if your bail is $10,000 and you've paid your bondsman $1,000, in theory if you don't show up, you're supposed to that bondsman is supposed to give the court $10,000. But that is not what happens. In the vast majority of counties, they settle for a lower amount. And in some of the places I talked to, like in Lubbock, Texas, they settle for 5 percent of the bond.

So if you consider that math for a minute, you've paid the bondsman 10 percent of the bond, at least. And then if you run, the bondsman only owes the county 5 percent. So it's an awfully good deal for the bail bondsman, and it doesn't provide a whole lot of incentive for them to go find you because they actually have already profited 5 percent. So they don't really need to go chase you because they've already made money.

And if you throw into that what the caller was talking about with collateral, you actually stand to profit 95 percent because the vast majority of bondsmen also ask for collateral, so...

CONAN: You can go after the co-signer.

SULLIVAN: Exactly, your co-signer - your aunt, your mother. Somebody put up a credit card number, a piece of jewelry, their house, something for the other $9,000. So the bondsman you've run, you're skipped, you're gone. And the bondsman says, well, I've got his $1,000. I've got $9,000 worth of jewelry. I'm good to go, and then on top of that, the county is only asking me to pay back five. So they've profited 95 percent on this bond. You're gone, and they have no incentive to go find you.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. Kevin's joining us from Westfield Center in Ohio.

KEVIN (Caller): Hi, Neal. This is a great story. I don't disagree with some of the issues here, but I want to add to it. The judges post require bonds because they know that people who sit in jail want their cases to move faster. If you're out of jail, and you're out on bond, you have no incentive to plead guilty, and that's my perspective as both a prosecutor and defense attorney. Cases move faster when you're in jail. You want to get the case resolved, and I would just tell you that that's in addition to these other issues that have come up in this great story.

CONAN: So what you're saying, Kevin, is if you're sitting in jail for a couple of months, you're far more likely to accept a plea agreement with a prosecutor, and plead guilty to something in order to get this resolved and move on?

KEVIN: Absolutely. You're desperate to get out and to get back to your job, get back to your family or get out of jail. Nobody wants to be there.

CONAN: Laura, one of the people you profiled took such a deal, got time served. OK, didn't have to do any more time, but then had a felony on his record.

SULLIVAN: He had a felony on his record, and he is the caller is absolutely correct. He has put his finger on what the Justice Department found in their own report, that statistically if you are sitting in jail, you are more likely to plead guilt,y and more likely to get a harsher punishment, than if you are on the outside and you've made your bail, because you have time to fight your case, prepare your case, and show the court that maybe you're a good citizen after all.

So if you're outside for six months, you've gone to rehab, maybe, you've paid restitution to whomever you've offended, you're paying child support, you've got a job and an apartment - no judge wants to put somebody who's contributing to the community in that positive way back in jail or put them you know, they'll say, we'll give you probation. We want you to do, you know, a whole lot of community service.

CONAN: Or sometimes you do weekends or something like that.

SULLIVAN: Exactly, or maybe you can spend your weekends, but we're not going to make you stay. If you're in jail - I mean, jail's horrible. I mean, jail's no fun. Jail's horrible, and you just have to wait out that time, and you've lost your job, your apartment, your family ties. And it becomes very, very difficult to sort of, you know, push back to the prosecutors.

CONAN: Kevin, thanks very much for the call.

KEVIN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to Ronald, and Ronald's with us from Grand Rapids, Michigan.

RONALD (Caller): Hi, how are you?

CONAN: Very well, thank you.

RONALD: I'm a bail bondsman. I like some of what she said, and I dislike a lot of what she said. I tell you, I (unintelligible) with the fact that we make a profit on a forfeiture. Now, she did cite Texas, which is probably the worst state in America for that. But in Michigan, if I have a forfeiture, they require me to pay 100 percent. If I refuse to pay 100 percent, they take me off the list and take away my ability to write bonds.

CONAN: OK.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, it's in some communities, that is true. Some are really on top of it.

RONALD: And that's in every county in Michigan. I do all 83.

SULLIVAN: Do you have to do you have a long period of time to bring the guy back to court?

RONALD: No, I've got 28 days if it's district level, and I've got 90 days if it's circuit.

SULLIVAN: At 28 days, you're paying 100 percent of the bond?

RONALD: Yup, and I have done that, and I can send you receipts showing that I pay 80 to 90,000 and did not recoup any of that money from the defendant because most of the time the co-signer for example, if I take a house as collateral, I can't sell that house for even the value in Michigan.

SULLIVAN: Right, yeah, real estate has been very difficult for the bail-bonding industry.

RONALD: OK. And jewelry, have you ever tried taking your jewelry to the pawn shop?

(Soundbite of laughter)

RONALD: You don't get 100 percent of the value.

SULLIVAN: This is true.

RONALD: So for you to state that says that you haven't been to Michigan, and you really don't know what's going on.

SULLIVAN: It's possible. I don't know. I'm not familiar with the county that you operate in, but - and I believe you, but you know, I will tell you that in California, bondsmen owe counties more than $150 million for an uncollected forfeiture.

RONALD: Let me state two things. One, that's the state's fault. Two, if the bondsmen don't pay, the insurance company that backs that bondsman is required to pay that forfeiture. So the state it's not the bondsman's fault that the state is not doing what it's supposed to, to collect its money.

SULLIVAN: That's a good argument.

CONAN: And...

RONALD: Because they have let me tell you this. One time I was trying to be funny because I didn't think a judge as a matter of fact, I had recaptured the defendant, put him back in jail, and they still hit me with the forfeiture.

So I said, I ain't paying you nothing. They went to my insurance company. So I had to pay the forfeiture, hire an attorney, get him to go into court to file a motion to get my money back.

Now, by the time all that occurred, I should have just let the courtroom keep the money in the first place.

CONAN: That sounds like a good idea. Ronald, let me ask you. You said you got the guy back. Do you employ bounty hunters to do that?

RONALD: It depends. On some bonds, I use a bounty hunter. If it's big enough, I'm going myself because that's my tail.

CONAN: Interesting. Ronald, thank you very much. I appreciate you telling us something about your business.

RONALD: Oh, one other thing, one last thing.

CONAN: Go ahead.

RONALD: In Michigan, I have to recapture 90 percent of my people. The police don't help us, and they don't necessarily all the time run the driver's license of both people in the car. They might only run the driver. Well, the passenger might be the one I'm looking for.

CONAN: All right, Ronald, interesting points. Thank you.

RONALD: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Well, he raises questions. You went to Texas because Texas has a notoriously bad system?

SULLIVAN: I went well, there are a variety of different reasons, sort of, when you start out your reporting. But one of the reasons came up was that most of the counties in Texas do not collect the full forfeiture amounts from the bondsmen. They settle for much lower amounts.

CONAN: Here's an email that we have from Chris(ph). While we need to modify the system of bail in jail, people are in jail for one reason: They commit crimes. Whether big or small, many commit crimes against their fellow humans. If they don't like the system, then don't commit the crime.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, you know, I hear this a lot, and I definitely heard this a lot on the road, and it's a valid point. A lot of the people in jail are there because they screwed up. They got themselves in some sort of trouble.

But the question is: Is it fair that those people get a worse break than other people because they're poor? That's the question at hand. A lot of people commit crimes, but the people who have money get a break. The people who don't have money end up in very difficult situations.

CONAN: Let's get Nathan on the line, Nathan with us from Stockton, California.

NATHAN (Caller): Hi, guys, thanks for the conversation. I wanted to speak to something that your guests had mentioned at the beginning of the conversation about just calling these people. When people don't show up to court, why aren't we just contacting them?

I managed a DUI court for our county courts for about three years, and one of the things that we noticed about our caseload in that court was that a third of them never would show up to their arraignment, and so we had very similar issues with people not showing up.

What we started doing with our program is when we would find people who didn't show up for arraignments and had warrants issued for them, we would call them, and it was amazing to me the amount of people who would just tell us things like, well, I missed my date, and I was really scared, I didn't know how the courts would react, so I decided to hide, but thank you for calling me, I'll come in now. And at that point, the judge would drop the warrant for them, and we'd get them into the system.

And I just it's something that I thought that the courts always would have done before I did the program, because I was kind of a layman when it came to the court system, before I started. But just seeing that the courts don't do something like that just kind of amazed me.

CONAN: We should point out, California takes DUIs very seriously.

NATHAN: We do. And our county, San Joaquin County, is actually one of the biggest counties for that. Our fine is larger than most of the other counties in California.

CONAN: All right. Nathan, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

NATHAN: Thank you.

CONAN: A simple phone call.

SULLIVAN: A simple phone call. That's what they all said, both the bondsmen and the pretrial release agency said, that most people actually do want to take care of their court business. They want to get it over with. They want to get on with their lives. But they sort of, you know, the people who end up in this kind of trouble sometimes live in these sort of lives of chaos, and they just need a reminder. They need, you know, the bus fare. They need a, you know, a ride, in some circumstances, just to get there.

CONAN: Another question, and this involves politics. Interestingly, you talked with a sheriff as he was touring you through a brand-new facility with a corridor for prisoners three football fields long, you said? That's 1,000 yards? Three hundred...

SULLIVAN: Huge. Yeah.

CONAN: Anyway, 300...

SULLIVAN: Three football fields long.

CONAN: Three football - it's 300 yards. Anyway, and you asked him and said, you know, gee, if you just had, you know, some kind of release program with - you wouldn't need this. And he said something really interesting.

SULLIVAN: And he did. He agreed. He said, I absolutely agree that we have these low-level misdemeanor offenders just chock-a-block filling up our jail. We don't have space for them. We're building this grand, new, $110 million facility just to house them. And he said, I agree we should be able to let these people out on some sort of a low bail, on some sort of a program, and let them get on with their lives and show up for court.

And then, just as we were about to walk out of the cell, he stopped me and he said, but I don't want you to think that I'm soft on crime. I'm not soft on crime. And that is the problem, I think, that a lot of politicians have sort of run up against with this issue. And it's just the - sort of the email you read, that it's hard for a politician to stand up there and say, wow, I'd really like to let some people out of jail so that they can, you know, come - show back up to court on, you know...

CONAN: On their own recognizance.

SULLIVAN: ...on their own recognizance or, you know, and trust them or put them in a program. It's hard to sort of step forward and do something like that without appearing soft on crime.

CONAN: And losing the next election.

SULLIVAN: And losing the next election.

CONAN: We're talking with NPR crime and punishment correspondent Laura Sullivan. Again, you can go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. There's a link to all of the stories she did in her series on the bail bonds burden. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's go next to Jim, and Jim's with us from Corvallis, Oregon.

JIM (Caller): Hi. I live in a state where we don't have bail bondsmen. And could you tell me, you know, discuss a little bit about how that works or why we're that way? And how does it work?

SULLIVAN: Yeah, definitely. There are four states in this country that do not have commercial bail - Oregon, Wisconsin, Kansas and - of course, it's slipping my mind, the last one. But it'll come to me. And - sorry, Kentucky, not Kansas. And Illinois - that's the fourth one. This has come about because of - in these states and in Oregon, there was a lot of corruption and some problems that came up through some of the bail bonding situations.

And so, they eliminated commercial bail bondsmen, which means that you pay your money directly to the court. If your bail is $10,000, you need $10,000. You pay it to the court. And you get all of it back minus a small, tiny, like 1 percent fee when you show up. It basically operates like a lot of European countries do.

There's a huge movement under way in Oregon right now from the bail bonding lobby to reinstate commercial bail bondsmen in Oregon. It's gained a lot of traction. There's a lot of people who think that commercial bail bonding is coming back to Oregon because of this. But statistically, Oregon has been able to show that they have pretty much the same reappearance rate as commercial bail bondsmen did in bringing...

CONAN: In states where they have commercial bail bondsmen.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, exactly, in bringing people back to court. And the reason that I think that came up, in talking to a number of people, told me that in Oregon, what had happened was - and this is what you see in a lot of different courthouses, is that the judges weren't setting bail at what you could afford. They were setting bail what you could afford to pay a bail bondsman.

So, if the judge thinks it's going to take $1,000 for you to come back to court, your bail is going to be $10,000, because $1,000 is what you pay the bail bondsman. It's not what you pay the court. And all of a sudden, you might have had $1,000, but you don't have 10.

CONAN: And if you pay that thousand to the bail bondsman, you don't have that, either.

SULLIVAN: You don't have that, either. You have to give that up permanently.

CONAN: Yeah. Jim, good question. Thank you.

JIM: OK, bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's see if we can go to Patty, Patty with us from Minneapolis.

PATTY (Caller): Hey, couple of things. One is, California got rid of the bail bond industry and reinstated it because it found out it was not efficient. My point will be states are having such a hard time with money. Read the paper where clerks are being laid off and less cops on the street. The bail bond industry works.

CONAN: Do you work in it, Patty?

PATTY: Yes. I'm an owner of a company.

CONAN: OK.

PATTY: The bail bond industry works with the deputies and the police, every person that is given a warrant and doesn't show up. And the warrant department is so overworked. There are thousands and thousands and thousands of warrants. So every bond that I post, it is my responsibility to get that person into court. Minnesota does not discount any forfeiture. We have a full staff that do nothing but call people, make sure they go to court, work with all the warrant departments. We are a huge savings to our state.

And the bail bond business is for all incomes. We could certainly not survive on only wealthy people. Families pitch in. We are flexible. We have payment plans. Our goal is to get the person out of jail. It's their right to be out of jail while they're waiting for their trial. And it's our word - our company is 101 years old - that we get the people into court.

CONAN: And I don't mean to cut you off, Patty. We just have a few seconds left. I wanted to give Laura a chance to respond.

PATTY: Sure.

SULLIVAN: I mean, she's absolutely right. Commercial bail bondsmen do not, you know, have any upfront cost to taxpayers. And pretrial release programs definitely do cost taxpayers money. The question in the long run, though, is that if most bail bonding companies are not going to be able to bail out the vast majority of offenders because they either can't come up with the money or they're not worth the bondsmen's time, it's going to fall on taxpayers' shoulders to sort of overcome that burden of overcrowding and pay for that person's incarceration. So if, in total, bondsmen generally bail out 30 percent, taxpayers are paying for the other 70.

CONAN: Patty, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

PATTY: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And Laura Sullivan, thanks to you, too.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

CONAN: Laura Sullivan, NPR's crime and punishment correspondent, joined us here in Studio 3A. Again, go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. There's a link to all of her stories.

Coming up, we're going to be talking about the case that's under way in Kansas. The alleged murderer of Dr. George Tiller, the abortion provider. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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