NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 30, 2008

Posting bail for people accused of crimes in exchange for a fee, is all but unknown in the rest of the world.  In England, Canada and other countries, agreeing to pay a defendant's bond in exchange for money is a crime akin to witness tampering or bribing a juror -- a form of obstruction of justice, says the New York Times.

However, the system costs taxpayers nothing and it is exceptionally effective at ensuring that defendants appear for court, says Bill Kreins, a spokesman for the Professional Bail Agents of the United States.

  • Other countries almost universally reject and condemn the trade, in which defendants who are presumed innocent but cannot make bail on their own pay an outsider a nonrefundable fee for their freedom.
  • Four states -- Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon and Wisconsin -- have abolished commercial bail bonds, relying instead on systems that require deposits to courts instead of payments to private businesses, or that simply trust defendants to return for trial.
  • Most of the legal establishment, including the American Bar Association and the National District Attorneys Association, hates the bail bond business, saying it discriminates against poor and middle-class defendants, does nothing for public safety, and usurps decisions that ought to be made by the justice system.

The flaw in the system most often cited by critics is that defendants who have not been convicted of a crime and who turn up for every court appearance are nonetheless required to pay a nonrefundable fee to a private business, assuming they do not want to remain in jail.

"It's a very American invention," John Goldkamp, a professor of criminal justice at Temple University, said of the commercial bail bond system.  "It's really the only place in the criminal justice system where a liberty decision is governed by a profit-making businessman who will or will not take your business."

Source: Adam Liptak, "Illegal Globally, Bail for Profit Remains in U.S.," New York Times, January 29, 2008.

For text: 


Browse more articles on Government Issues