Yesterday I happened to be on an all-day drive, so I listened to a lot of NPR, and heard parts two and three of their series on how the bail system in American courts is broken. I didn’t care much for the human-interest style of journalism—the point could have been made far more effectively in one-third the time—but they focused on an excellent example of how systems are almost guarantee to break if people stand to make money from their workings.

The current system is costing cities and counties huge amounts of money (one-quarter of the budget in many cases) and imposing a huge financial hardship on people with scant resources, all for questionable results. Meanwhile, there is an alternative (pre-trial release with electronic monitoring) which costs about one percent what it costs to hold someone for trial—and allows them to continue living their lives, and earning money—but is being derailed by folks who lose money when it is used.

Most of the forty minutes it would take to listen to these stories would be wasted, but fortunately the NPR website has transcripts which can be read through much more quickly.

Part 1: Bail burden keeps U.S. Jails stuffed with inmates

Part 2: Inmates who can’t make bail face stark options

Part 3: Bondsman lobby targets pre-trial release programs


2 thoughts on “Bail

  1. I heard the same story and was appalled. It raised important questions of not just the budgetary, practical implications, but of entire notion of using incarceration as punishment for people who are not a threat to others, as well as the influence of monied lobbying. Very timely given the Supreme Court decision which followed a few days later.

    It is not surprising to hear of a group lobbying against what is just as well as practical, purely for their own self-interest. What seems “new” to me is the complete lack of shame or guilt when this is made public. The representative for the bondsman, admitted that he was doing this purely for selfish purposes and felt absolutely no qualms saying so publicly.

  2. The unfortunate thing about the story, beyond its particulars, is the degree to which it more generally represents the dynamic among between business and our political and legal systems.

    Bail bondsmen are viewed by many as an unsavory segment (and perhaps not uncoincidentally, one unlikely to contribute to public radio) – – an easy target for NPR. But the fundamental political advantage of concentrated benefits over diffused costs is one that significant segment of American business fails to exploit.

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