Scientifically Assessed “Risk-Based” Bail isn’t Perfect! (But It’s Still a lot Better than Money Bail)

My series (part 1, part 2,) of posts have sought not to focus on the flaws of the money bail system (my colleagues have done an admirable job), but to highlight an alternative – risk-based bail.  I’ve discussed tools that are better indicators of a defendant’s risk than the proverbial gut, the history of national bail reform and the 4 elements that make up risk-based bail, and an insider’s look into effective implementation of risk-based bail here in the federal Northern District of California. However, there are still those who believe a risk-based bail system is not as effective as money bail. This post assesses the arguments proposed by the status-quo crowd.

There are a wide variety of arguments by proponents of the money bail system. The sources of these arguments are similarly varied, from bail bond associations, legislators, judges, and even civilian comments on websites (First Amendment exercise at its finest). However, the two most prominent arguments seem to be the following:

  • Money bail is a great incentive for defendants to show up to court
  • A money bail system is free to society and taxpayers

When assessing the system (in practice not just theory) it is still clear, money bail is a bad deal, and one we can no longer afford.

Continue reading “Scientifically Assessed “Risk-Based” Bail isn’t Perfect! (But It’s Still a lot Better than Money Bail)”

Risk-Based Bail- The Money Bail Fix since 1966. Part 1- How The Bail Reform Acts Tackle Money-Bails Biggest Problems.

While money bail is deeply flawed, the answer to this problem will require more than just getting rid of commercial bail bond companies; they are a mere symptom of the “one size fits all” bail schedule model. The solution as we will see is risk-based bail. It’s recently been employed in New Jersey and hailed as the ideal model. But as novel as it sounds, risk-based bail has been around since before we set foot on the moon. For over 40 years, the federal courts have been able to tailor release based upon the risks of a specific defendant, be that failure to appear (FTA), or danger to the community. Further, these risks are mitigated with the least restrictive measures available. Assuming a defendant’s risks are accurately measured, conditions exist to mitigate risk, those conditions are actually enforced, there is no apparent need for the bail bondsmen. This is probably why there is no federal bail schedule and hardly any bondsmen in federal court.

There is often a distinction between law in the books, and law on the ground. As such, this post focuses on the former: the history of congressional bail reform, the alternative bonds used in federal court, and how we got the current elements of risk-based bail. The follow up post demonstrates one such instance of how risk-based bail has been rolled out here in the federal Northern District of California.

Continue reading “Risk-Based Bail- The Money Bail Fix since 1966. Part 1- How The Bail Reform Acts Tackle Money-Bails Biggest Problems.”

Risk Assessment Tools: How Science Is Making It Safe to Release

In a quote oft attributed to Mark Twain, “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble, it’s what you think you know that just isn’t so.” And for many, there’s a lot we think we know. Most people could probably recite a Miranda warning. How? Because we’ve seen it on television. As it relates to bail, TV has shown us bounty hunters tracking down absconders. Who hasn’t smiled while watching a TV perp’s crestfallen look when the judge triumphantly declares “Bail denied!”?Bail is supposed to be set with the public’s safety in mind, a notion repeated by the proponents of the current money bail system such as the California Bail Agents Association.

We must be careful not to confuse the wonders of Hollywood production with real life. Indeed, after a lifetime of watching NYPD Blue, CSI, and a litany of other shows known by initials, one may think the judge has some whiz kids of their own on staff. Why not, if law enforcement can pull a defendant’s entire “file” being in seconds, wouldn’t the judge be able to do so as well? The truth is, when setting bail the judge may have little more than his or her “gut,” and the charges in front of him, which for bail in California must be considered as true.

Moreover, with pre-set county-wide bail schedules , someone can post money bail and be released before even seeing a judge. High-risk individuals who may pose a significant danger to public safety can be quickly released, while low-risk non-violent ones remain in jail for longer periods. A better solution than money bail and the non-refundable 10% deposit is science. Using science, we can replace the money bail system, safely release more people (who still haven’t been convicted), keep our communities safe, and save money. This post touches on one such empirically-based method known as Risk Assessment (RA) tools. Continue reading “Risk Assessment Tools: How Science Is Making It Safe to Release”