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Making Bail in New York City: Commercial Bonds and Cash Bail

NCJ Number
Mary T. Phillips, Ph.D.
Date Published
March 2010
104 pages
This report investigates the extent to which defendants rely on the services of commercial bail bondsmen in New York City.
This research suggests that it would be in the interests of justice to bring New York into closer compliance with the standards of the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA), the American Bar Association (ABA), and the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA), all of which recommend the abolition of commercial bail bonds. Results show that the bail system as a whole discriminates against the poor, but once commercial profits enter the picture the discriminatory effects are magnified. In addition to a nonrefundable fee, the defendant or his family has to come up with an amount of cash collateral that is determined by no fixed formula and varies considerably from case to case. Without the services of bondsmen, more than half of defendants with bond set at an amount under $1,000 never made bail, although some of them were eventually granted Release on Own Recognizance (ROR). Bondsmen's unwillingness to write bonds for less than $1,000 makes it easier for a defendant to make $1,000 bail than $750 or $500. This is an unintended consequence of the profit motive that drives the commercial surety industry, an outcome likely not intended by the court. Like any enterprise organized for profit, the bail bond industry is open to abuse. The abuse takes the form of overcharging clients, accepting clients whose interests would be better served by posting the same amount of cash directly with the court, or inflating the number of fee-paying clients by not requiring them to deposit collateral. Tables, figures, references, and appendixes