Saturday, January 3, 2015

Two Histories of Bail?

When I started researching bail, I noticed that there wasn't much on the history of bail. Accordingly, I started reading everything about the history, and I ended up writing quite a bit about it. It turns out that the history tells you some pretty important things, like why we've needed bail reform and how to avoid needing bail reform in the future.

Yesterday I noticed another published "history of bail" in Springer's Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice. I couldn't wait to read it, especially since it was written by what I call a "bail insurance company sympathizer." I won't go into all the gory details of that right now, but maybe I will in the future if I have to.

In any event, I was anxious to see what the bail industry take on the history might be. After all, if you look at the history of bail, the commercial surety industry looks pretty bad. We only created that industry in 1900 (ironically because we thought it would reduce the numbers of people in jail who couldn't get out through the previous personal surety system), and by 1920 we had our first decent paper (written by the Dean of the Harvard Law School and a future Supreme Court Justice) saying that we need to figure out ways to stop using bondsmen. Ever since, they've been causing chaos with release and detention in America. Everyone from bail scholars and historians to police officers and judges have criticized them, and whenever anyone writes anything good about that business, it becomes pretty clear that the author was either paid off or didn't do his or her homework.

The bondsmen's history probably leaves out the fact that several states have completely eliminated them (the industry continues to try to get back into those states using some very slippery tactics), ignores the fact that the ABA national best-practice standards on pretrial release and detention calls for the abolition of the commercial surety industry, and uses the same four or five studies (most of which have been rendered useless through a Department of Justice data advisory, but that's whole other blog) to try to convince people to keep using them.

The bondsmen's history probably doesn't mention anything about the rampant abuse in the industry (documented starting in the 1920s), with commercial sureties trading bonds for sex, failing to pay for forfeited amounts, bilking clients, and knocking down the doors of random houses looking for what they call their "skips." It probably won't focus too much on their intense affiliation with ALEC, the same black bag policy group that fought against protecting children from cigarettes, that works hard to disenfranchise voters, and that continues to try to get courts across America to use commercial bail bondsmen no matter how many people it harms. And I doubt it'll go into much detail about just how much money the insurance companies make from this whole arrangement. So much money, in fact, that they have no problem spending millions on lobbyists to make sure that our system of bail continues to generate a profit.

So I was looking forward to reading it, you know?

The problem is that there was no way to buy just that article. Apparently you have to buy the whole freakin' encyclopedia just to read about the history of bail.

So . . .  I guess I'll leave a proper critique of the substance for another day. For now, just realize that there are two histories out there -- and they might not look exactly alike. I'll let you all decide which to believe. The histories that I helped to write are free, and you can find them in both our "History of Bail" document or in my recent "Fundamentals of Bail" document, both of which are on the National Institute of Corrections' and the Pretrial Justice Institute's websites. The bondsmen history is for sale at the low price of only $4,350.00 on the Springer Publishing website.

That kind of seems like a lot of money, but really it makes a lot of sense. Bondsmen, bail insurance lobbyists, and bail industry sympathizers don't think twice about making all of us pay big money simply to get out of jail, when freedom and liberty are our basic human rights. What's $4,000 for a couple of books?