If you've never dealt with it, the bail bonding industry probably doesn't seem especially pernicious to you. But according to a massive investigation by National Public Radio's Laura Sullivan,
the industry exerts enormous influence over the way the American
criminal justice system works. Laura Sullivan's story is making waves,
drawing lavish praise from the likes of Mother Jones's Kevin Drum, Matthew Yglesias, and The Atlantic's James Fallows. Sullivan argues that many of American criminal justice system's worst practices,
exist almost solely to protect the interests of a powerful bail bonding industry. The result is that people with money get out. They go back to their jobs and their families, pay their bills and fight their cases. And according to the Justice Department and national studies, those with money face far fewer consequences for their crimes. People without money stay in jail and are left to take whatever offer prosecutors feel like giving them. [...] According to the Justice Department, two-thirds of the people in the nation's jails are petty, nonviolent offenders who are there for only one reason: They can't afford their bail.Sullivan laments many problems with the system. One inmate, for example, has cost taxpayers $2,850 for his imprisonment because he lacked $150 for bail. Another man, who lawyers tell Sullivan would likely serve no time if he posted bail, is facing seven years in prison. The disproportionate sentencing is due, she says, to the fact that defendants without bail are at the mercy of prosecutors. As a result, prisons are overcrowded, making them more dangerous and more expensive.
There are solutions, Sullivan reports, such as doing away with bail altogether and using cheap ankle bracelets instead. She says the bail bond lobby works hard to keep those options off the table and to make sure that inmates have only two options: Pay them for bail or stay in prison, maybe for years longer than necessary.