Should It Cost Less to Get Out of Jail if You're Rich?

Eric Amparan likes the system the way it is now. As a bail bondsman, he's part of an industry that pulls in $2 billion in revenue every year. Eric lays out how he profits off of financial desperation in our latest video in the Prison Profiteers series:

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Here's how it typically works: If you're booked into jail, you can either sit in a cell for months waiting for your trial – losing your job and missing your childcare commitments in the process – or you can pay bail to the court. Bail functions like a promise; the court will return it to you when you show up for your court date.

The median bail amount is $25,000. If you don't happen to have this amount sitting in your bank account, odds are you'll need to borrow it from a bail bondsman, like Eric Amparan. Here's the catch: Eric will keep 10% of this amount as his non-refundable fee, even if you're found innocent. So you pay thousands of dollars to get out of jail if you're poor or middle class, but you pay nothing if you're rich.

Bail is not a fine. It is not supposed to be used as punishment. The traditional purpose of bail is simply to ensure that people will return for their court date. But the commercial bail industry's business model is to make it more expensive for people of lesser means to move through the criminal justice system.

Most states have laws saying that the default should be that people are released from jail while waiting for their trial solely based on their promise to return to court – unless there's a really compelling reason to hold them. And these laws could work – studies show that most people can be safely released based on their promise to return without jeopardizing public safety or fleeing.

But judges often ignore these laws, and instead make people pay bail – which feeds right into the bail profiteers' business model. When judges set higher bail amounts, bail bond companies pull in higher profits. The American Bail Coalition – a lobbying group that represents the bail bondsmen, powerful insurance companies and wealthy investors – is working hard to make sure these profits keep coming in. They spent $3.1 million dollars lobbying state lawmakers between 2002 and 2011 and drafted twelve bail bills that encourage judges to set high bail amounts and give the bail industry more leeway to profit off incarceration.

Four states – Illinois, Kentucky Oregon and Wisconsin – have abolished the bail bonding industry. Other states should do the same.

We shouldn't have two criminal justice systems one for the rich and one for the rest of us. The commercial bail industry needs to know we're watching.

The bail industry is just one the many powerful entities getting rich off mass incarceration. Meet the other Prison Profiteers and take action to fight their abuses at prisonprofiteers.org.

The original post said and the video above says that the average bail amount is $89,000; this is the mean amount and is skewed higher than the median of $25,000 because of extremely high bail amounts set for serious felony charges.

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Anonymous

He could make MORE money working for something like Carr Futures. They make trades in the billions.
I know someone who worked for them, in fact it almost cost him his life when he worked at the World Trade Center. But he made lots of money. He refuses to tell me HOW much he made but I read that they traded $5 billion with someone. I figure if you're working with THAT type of account you're not making beans for your salary.

Anyway, my friend doesn't understand people who "are so untalented at business they think something akin to profiting off human trafficking is the only way they can make money."
He thinks making money of prisoners is like profiting from human trafficking.
He also thinks health and funeral care have no business being PROFITing business. "Make it nonprofit and have another business that DOES make a profit. Besides that," he said "you can operate nonprofit ventures at a surplus but you have to be a LITTLE bit smarter than your basic sponge to accomplish it." He doesn't think they're smart enough to find their butts if they had maps to do it.

He must be talented at what he does, b/c he can always "find something else to profit from."
He dislikes people who will make a profit off ANYthing and anyONE.

Dennis Bartlett...

Jesse got more than a few things wrong: (1) $2 billion in revenue [where do we get on?] Gross income for 2012 does not exceed $1.36 billion [but what's an error of over a half billion dollars ?] Seem like a lot of money? Divide it up among over 30K agents and staff, and the 35 companies involved in bail, & deduct expenses and forfietures -- these people probably qualify for food stamps. (2) The average bail amount is more like $5000 vice the whopping $90K Jesse invokes [where did he effodiate this nonsense?]. (3) Studies show? What studies? The JPI error packed stuff to which he refers has been refuted point by point by yours truly last SEP. (4) Wow $3.1 million dollars [the real figure is way less, probably less than half that amount] over ten years, for 50 states! Comes out to around $6K a year per state -- right up there with Walmart!. Wonder what the ALCU spent? (5) Encourages judges to set high bail amounts? Totally false. High bail amounts means clients cannot make bail. What good would that do for the bail industry? (6) Oregon never abolished bail. In fact a 27 NOV 2012 court decison affirmed it. Jesse, it's your call what you think about bail, but at least get some basic facts straight about a method of release pending trial which releases on average 10,000 defendants a day and makes sure that 98% come back to court on time. You might not like us, but the criminal justicc system would implode without us, and like you we don't cost the tax payer anything.
.

Anonymous

I am 51 white successful female first time non violent offender, my bail was set at $500,000 plus home incarceration. The bail bond was 20% not ten. I am supposes to consider myself lucky because that judge never gives bail to anyone. This was all so the DEA could take all of my property (forfeiture) that I got through 30 years of hard work. All because an inmate said I talked about committing a crime (the key word Conspiracy). I'm loosing my freedom, a million dollars and everyone says it's an un winnable case. I guess federal incarceration should be added to the list of possible retirement plans.

Anonymous

The bail bond system is costing tax payers not only because we pay for the jail time of those waiting trial, but also because those who cannot make bail receive harsher sentences that we also have to pay for.

As I recall an NPR story said the bail bond industry increases incarceration and those who cannot pay bail receive harsher sentences. When a person is free while waiting trial he/she can show that they are capable of being responsible citizens. When he/she cannot pay bail and must remain in jail, they have nothing to show that they can be responsible citizens. That is one reason why those who cannot pay bail are more likely to receive harsher sentences, while whose who can pay get lighter sentences or parole instead of prison.

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