Privatizing Probation and Parole

Policy Reports | Crime

No. 233
Thursday, June 01, 2000
by Morgan O. Reynolds


Do these political difficulties spell doom for expanding surety bonding into parole and probation? No. At least three factors may help eventually overcome the oppositon.

  • Because corrections tops all other major categories in rate of spending growth, legislatures are pressing for ways to both improve performance and restrain the growth of public spending.
  • The American Legislative Exchange Council, a nationwide bipartisan group of conservative legislators, has drafted model legislation, "Conditional Post Conviction Release Act," and promoted the idea of privatizing probation and parole to legislatures.47
  • The surety industry has worked for a decade to persuade legislators that secured release works and that such legislation should pass.

The market is potentially huge. With more than four million people on probation and parole, and a typical post-conviction release bond of $5,000 or more, the potential bond market exceeds $20 billion - which means direct revenues to bail agents of over $2 billion.

"Bonds for probation and parole are a good idea whose time is near."

Legislation to permit such secured, postconviction release may be closest in California. Key legislators there are receptive, partly because the surety industry has formed an alliance with the sheriffs' association, judges' association, prosecutors' association and police and victim groups.48

"Legislators are starting to get it. They are upset with failures to appear and they realize the impact it has on the criminal justice system," says Terry Fowler, a surety bonding consultant.49 "They're fed up, especially with the disrespect for the system, and they understand that secured release works." Such releases produce fewer crimes committed and more personal accountability. Superior performance at lower taxpayer cost does have political appeal, eventually.

The active opposition consists of the parole and probation departments, bolstered by the power of the status quo. The bureaucracy is often unionized, in addition to belonging to the American Parole and Probation Association and sometimes the National Association of Probation Executives. Political clout combined with "expertise" and high motivation to protect turf make such bureaucratic opposition formidable. But in the long run, sound ideas prevail over vested interests, especially bureaucratic interests with little or no public support.

Bonds for probation or parole have yet to be written. But bonds for probation and parole are a good idea whose time may be near. If individual accountability is the answer to crime, then it must include the most powerful kind of accountability: financial responsibility.

NOTE: Nothing written here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the National Center for Policy Analysis or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress.

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