Reports Show How Commercial Bail Industry Endangers Public Safety, Justice

community safety has been corrupted by the corporate influence of the commercial bail industry.
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Washington, D.C. — The pretrial process that is supposed to ensure access to justice and protect community safety has been corrupted by the corporate influence of the commercial bail industry. A new suite of reports released Wednesday by the Center for American Progress examines how this web of private bail companies gets rich by foisting nonrefundable costs onto the very people who can least afford the cost of bail, further exacerbating the United States’ two-tiered justice system.

For decades, the commercial bail industry has worked to maintain cash bail systems that are in desperate need of reform in an effort to protect its profit potential. Like payday lenders, predatory bail agents target people with limited financial resources and trap them in cycles of debt, often relying on a culture of violence and intimidation. Furthermore, bail agents actually stand to benefit financially from a client’s rearrest, meaning there is material conflict between for-profit bail systems and public safety interest.

The reports provide a comprehensive overview of how the commercial bail industry deepens the cleavage between the rich and the poor; increases racial disparities; contributes to high pretrial incarceration rates; perpetuates violence and abuse against individuals who are arrested and their loved ones; and jeopardizes community safety.

“For too long, the commercial bail industry has capitalized on Americans’ economic vulnerabilities to bolster its bottom line at the expense of both the people involved in the criminal legal system and their families and communities,” said Patrick Gaspard, CAP president and CEO. “The public is being misled by companies that profit from keeping the poor in debt in order to avoid incarceration, while inadequate regulation and oversight over the commercial bail industry have allowed it to operate largely unchecked. It’s time for that to change. What we propose for policymakers are systemic reforms that keep communities safe while illuminating the abuse and unfairness of the commercial bail industry.”

Short of abolishing the use of cash bail—which would be the most effective way to restore the presumption of innocence and ensure fair and equitable pretrial justice—the authors recommend several state-level reforms:

  • Eliminate commercial bail bonds and establish a court-run bail system.
  • Build alternative systems to support release that promote court appearance and protect community safety.
  • Invest in enforcement mechanisms for commercial bail companies to promote compliance with state regulations and ensure bad actors are held accountable.
  • Strengthen consumer protection laws, which have not been applied to the commercial bail industry to the fullest extent possible.

Read the report: “Profit Over People: The Commercial Bail Industry Fueling America’s Cash Bail Systems” by Allie Preston and Rachael Eisenberg

Read the fact sheet: “Profit Over People: Inside the Commercial Bail Bond Industry Fueling America’s Cash Bail Systems” by Allie Preston

Read the primer: “Profit Over People: Primer on U.S. Cash Bail Systems” by Allie Preston and Rachael Eisenberg

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