Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Prisons, Jails, What’s the Difference?

I notice that PBUS is running a story that highlights a statement by a prosecutor saying mass incarceration is an “urban legend.” Since PBUS chose to highlight it, you’d think that the prosecutor’s argument has something to do with jails and bail, but it doesn’t. No, it’s about prisons and sentencing.

I’m always confused when bail people broaden the issue to start talking about who should be in prison and why. You know, depending on the source, only about 3-5% of defendants nationally will ever go to prison. The rest, having spent some short or long period in jail, will come right back into our neighborhoods. Those of us in bail who talk about “mass” or “over” incarceration aren’t necessarily talking about prison, so I’m not sure why PBUS would even care. No, we’re talking about jails – who should be in jail and why.

Frankly, I’m also confused when people who supposedly feel strongly about the right to bail keep bringing up reasons for why they think most people should be locked up. I don’t think that it’s bail agents saying this, even though this latest thing came from PBUS, the “voice of the bail agent.” I think it’s the bail insurance people, who have somehow wrapped up bail reform with the overall dysfunction underlying the conservative versus liberal debate in America. But really, the fact that PBUS would say that most people need to be locked up goes to a deeper issue, which is the fact that bail insurance people apparently don’t know very much about bail.

That prison/jail error isn’t unique to bail insurance companies; it’s just that they should know better. For example, not too long ago, after Dwyane Wade’s cousin was shot, a bunch of people on a news show I was watching were complaining about sentencing. Three or four different people lamented the fact that the suspects who shot Wade’s cousin shouldn’t have even been out of prison to begin with – apparently, they had been released early for different reasons. Ultimately, though, the reporter asked someone what they were going to do to solve the problem, and he said, “We’re going to ask for higher bond amounts.” I expect this kind of solution from people who don’t know anything about bail.

But do you get it? It was a sentencing issue, and people thought they could somehow solve it through bail. But you don’t solve sentencing issues through bail. And a lot of people, including, apparently, the bail insurance dudes, somehow think that you can. For whatever reason, I think the insurance companies just don’t like people. They certainly don’t like criminals. And I think they have an honest belief that these people need to be punished for a really long time. But what they don’t know is that bail is not the place to do that.

I can deal with a bail agent who tells me that he believes in the right to bail so much that even the highest risk and most violent defendant deserves to be able to mount a defense outside of jail. What I can’t deal with is a bail insurance company simultaneously saying that nobody is non-violent and that we need to lock everyone up, but then fighting to release everyone so long as they have money. It’s like they’re saying, “We really love bail, except for all those pesky releases.”

Bail agents, I don’t think that the insurance companies or the overpaid lobbyists they hire really even know your core beliefs. As I’ve said before, you guys were the answer when America faced a serious jail over-incarceration issue back in the 1800s.  We’re facing a similar issue today, and you could be part of that answer, too. Unfortunately, the insurance people don’t know how even to begin to talk about it. Apparently, they’re thinking about prisons, when they should be thinking about jails. 

Monday, September 5, 2016

Bail Agents, I Think You’re In Trouble

A recent article in the Arizona Capitol Times highlighted two things that should give bail agents everywhere concern over how the whole insurance lobbying effort is going. You can read it here.

First, when talking about the Arizona Fair Justice For All Task Force recommendations concerning pretrial justice, the head of ABC said, “If it gets wheels, we’ll get involved.” Really? Man, I was out there, like, three times in the last six months, and each time I was there the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court was actually in the room running the meetings. If you don’t think this thing has “wheels,” then I’m not sure you know what a wheel even looks like. I think the insurance guy just missed this one. Every time I was there, I kept thinking, “Where are all the insurance people? It’s like they don’t even know this is going on.” I think I was right.  

Second, the headline of the story shows how the insurance companies like to make friends: “Bail Bond Industry To Fight Change to ‘No Money’ System.” It’s the usual, “we’ll fight them on the beaches” rhetoric, and it shows that the bail insurance companies really have no interest in finding a realistic place for bail agents in the future. All they know how to do is to fight to keep the status quo. It’s the only way they won’t lose any money, and finding an alternative for bail agents that exists within a “no” or even “less” money system is simply a no-win for these insurance dudes. And yet, you bail agents have apparently handed over your entire lobbying strategy to them.

For every big thing that happens in bail, there are twenty big things that the bail insurance companies miss. And when they find out about them (or if they find out; there’s a ton that’s happened where they’ve missed even the chance to fight), they fight them like crazy. Is it any wonder that word is getting out not to even speak to them anymore? And, as I’ve often said, most people don’t separate the insurance lobbyists from the agents. When the lobbyists vow to fight, people figure you’re fighting too. You all get lumped into the big group labeled, “People Who Want to Fight Us.” Do you really think anyone really wants to talk that group?

Bail agents, I still think your interests are different from the insurance companies’, and I think that allowing these companies’ lobbyists to work only for insurance interests will ultimately put you out of business.