You may think that if you’re a law-abiding citizen, the concept of “bail” may be irrelevant. Well, maybe you forgot to pay your car insurance. Or maybe your license lapsed. You get pulled over because your tail light is out. It’s not a violent crime – a lapse in judgement, or a lack of money, perhaps.
And suddenly you need bail. $1000, the judge tells you, or you have to go to Rikers Island, New York’s main prison complex. You and 140,000 criminals. And someone like Robert Durst, accused of murder in Texas, is able to cough up a quarter million and walk away free.
America’s for-profit bail system is a $14 million a year industry, and the U.S. is one of only two countries that allows a for-profit system. According to a 2012 Justice Policy Institute report:
For-profit bail bonding costs taxpayers through increased jail and other justice expenses. In addition, it impacts people from low income communities – generally the loved ones of the accused person – who must pay nonrefundable fees for the bond regardless of case outcome and who, through contracts with the bondsmen, bear the real monetary risk of paying the full bail amount in the event of a court no-show.