Even district attorneys, who have historically been some of the biggest advocates for money bail, have been stepping up. Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez, Manhattan DA Cy Vance, Chicago’s State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Philadelphia’s newly-elected DA Larry Krasner have all eliminated money bail for certain low-level offenses to end the system’s reliance on unnecessary and harmful pretrial detention.
However, these successes don’t fully mitigate the destruction caused by the commercial bail bond industry — how it preys upon low-income communities and people of color, among many others — or address the urgent need to dismantle it entirely.
The for-profit commercial bail bonds industry is built on predatory business practices. With bail bond agents working as proxies for large insurance corporations, they exploit poor communities, particularly black communities.
In exchange for a nonrefundable fee from defendants, a bail bond agent will secure a person’s release from jail, often without having to deposit any money with the court themselves. When families cannot pay bond agents in cash, they may be forced to put up their car or home as collateral, which they can easily lose entirely if they do not make each and every payment installment.
With the potential threat of physical harm in jail looming, as well as the consequences of not returning to their lives, people often sign contracts filled with egregious terms that put their entire family at risk. These can include unannounced, armed home searches, vehicle tracking, body monitoring and phone surveillance — all conducted by private, poorly regulated bail bond agents. Unbelievably, even when the charges are dropped, the case is dismissed or a defendant is found innocent by the court, families remain on the hook to pay the full amount of exorbitant fees demanded by these agents.