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Bail Reform Update 2013: Pretrial Services Programs Refined and Expanded Their Reach, While the Bail Industry Continued To Fight Forfeiture Collection and Non-financial Release

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2013
3 pages

This brief presents an update on pretrial and bail reform in the United States during 2013.


Most jurisdictions continue to rely on money instead of scientifically measured public safety risk in making pretrial release decisions. This practice persists even through research continues to show it is ineffective, unfair, and expensive. It also threatens public safety and produces profits for the bail-bonding industry. There has been some positive movement, however, in legislation, forfeiture collection, pretrial services expansion, and bail-bonding regulation. Perhaps the most critical action in 2013 was not a bill, but a Wisconsin privatized bail-bonding budget provision. The provision, which would have allowed Wisconsin to reinstate bail bondsmen and bounty hunters, was part of the bail bonding industry's continual effort to regain "markets" that base release on risk rather than money. The provision was opposed by many legislators, judges, law enforcement officials, and the Governor vetoed it. Wisconsin is one of only four States that has eliminated for-profit bail bonding. For-profit bail bondsmen continue to exercise control over the pretrial process and the lives of their clients. Essentially acting as an arrested person's jailer outside of the jail, they have the power to revoke the bond, sending a client back to jail. This report presents one case that illustrates the amount of discretion and power that the bail system gives to a third-party insurance agent (bail bondsman). This report, which represents the view of the Justice Policy Institute, recommends ending the use of money as a proxy for risk in pretrial systems. It also recommends eliminating the for-profit bail bonding industry in the criminal justice system. In addition, it recommends increasing the use of pretrial services agencies to measure the public safety and flight risks of arrested individuals and supervise them during pretrial release. 8 notes