For-Profit Bail Bonds Industry and Insurance Corporations Trap People in Cycle of Debt

New Report from Color of Change and ACLU Documents Toll of Money Bail on Communities of Color and the Poor

May 11, 2017 9:15 am

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NEW YORK – A report released today by Color Of Change and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Campaign for Smart Justice shows how the bail bonds industry deprives people of their constitutional rights. Every year millions are forced to pay money bail after arrest, but the insurance corporations that make money bail possible operate with little oversight as they profit from America’s corrupt pretrial justice system.

“Big insurance is raking in huge profits by putting a price on people’s freedom,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change. “Like payday loans, bail bonds are a predatory practice that traps Black families and poor people in debt. For too long, the corporations that reap massive profits from this unjust destruction of our communities have been allowed to operate unchecked. When taxpayers foot the bill for needlessly locking up poor people before trial, the government is essentially subsidizing a racist, unnecessary, and outright dangerous industry. This report makes it clear: our justice system cannot be fair until we end for-profit bail.”

The bail bonds industry portrays itself as small, “mom and pop” bail bonds agencies that secure release from jail for a nonrefundable fee – typically 10 percent of the bail amount paid in cash or through an installment plan with interest. In reality, multinational insurance corporations dominate the industry, underwriting each bond. The money bail system allows corporate insurers to operate with little risk, meaning the industry profits even when its customers do not show up for court.

The report reveals that bail insurance corporations are increasingly held as under-the-radar subsidiaries of large multinational companies, and fewer than 10 large insurers underwrite a majority of the approximately $14 billion in bail bonds issued in the United States each year.

“For too long, the bail bond industry has profited from a system that traps poor people in a cycle of incarceration and debt,” said Udi Ofer, director of the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice. “It is time for states to abolish the for-profit bail system, which perpetuates racial bias within the criminal justice system and only benefits the bail industry’s bottom line. Money shouldn’t determine someone’s freedom from incarceration. Wall Street must not be the gatekeeper of pretrial detention and release. Profits must be removed from playing any role in deciding whether a person is free or in jail.”

The report exposes how the industry works, who is impacted by this corrupt system that drives mass incarceration, the corporations and enablers in government behind it, the inherent problems in allowing a for-profit industry to hold the key to the jail, and why the practice of for-profit money bail must be eliminated from the justice system. The report details how for-profit bail companies and insurance corporations subvert justice through:

  • Determining who gets to have their freedom before trial and who must stay in jail for days, weeks, or months, and making these decisions based only on profit potential;
  • Trapping families in cycle of debt through payment plans for bond premiums, which people can end up paying long after their case is dismissed or resolved;
  • Rigging contracts to coerce people in dire circumstances to forfeit their rights, such as forcing customers and families to submit to invasive surveillance, and to pay long-term and unpredictable costs; and
  • Influencing politicians and policy to sustain their ability to extract money from arrested people and their families.

The full report is available online here:

Color Of Change is the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. We help people respond effectively to injustice in the world around us. As a national online force driven by over one million members, we move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America. Visit

ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice is dedicated to ending mass incarceration in the United States. It is an unprecedented, multiyear effort to reduce the U.S. jail and prison population by 50 percent and challenge racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Visit

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