Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Harris County owed millions by bond companies for bail skips

In a must read story, Lise Olsen reported yesterday ("Bail bonds no bounty for Harris County") that "A Houston Chronicle review shows 500 current and former bond companies and individuals still owe taxpayers more than $26 million in default judgments, some dating back decades."

The whole story is so chock-full of journalistic goodness I won't excerpt it so you'll go there and read the whole thing.

Just one quibble: Olsen wrote that "various studies" show just five percent of surety bond clients fail to show up for court, but that figure sounds low to me. In Tarrant County, for example, defendants with surety bonds had a 16% no-show rate, Fort Worth Weekly reported a few years ago. A 2007 federal report (pdf) put the national failure-to-appear rate for surety bonds at 20%. Perhaps it depends on who's funding the study?

It's also worth mentioning that some 90% of absconders in Houston, according to the Texas Fair Defense Project's Andrea Marsh, are brought in by law enforcement officers, not surety bondsmen. So in addition to bond companies not always being financially responsible, most defendants who skip aren't caught by bail bondsmen, Dog the Bounty Hunter notwithstanding.

Given these outcomes - the lack of financial responsibility for absconders and the fact that law enforcement already pick up most no-shows in Houston - using personal bonds instead of commercial bail for lower-risk offenders makes more sense to me all the time.

8 comments:

Soronel Haetir said...

I find it amazing that these companies are allowed to operate without actually depositing the bond funds with the court. Yet more proof that it's mostly a scam.

Anonymous said...

An article written by the Houston Chronicle on February 21, and displayed front page on their Sunday edition portraying the bail bond business and to be loosely regulated and more or less insinuating that 26 million dollars in unpaid judgments due to bail bond forfeitures resulting from failure to appear in Harris County Criminal Courts by bail bondsman and individuals is a bit confusing.

The reporter gives reference to a 24 page document that indicates over 500 bail bond companies and individuals owe unpaid judgments dating back 2 decades. My first question would be which bail bond companies and which individuals? This sentence by itself is extremely vague at best. My next question, since approximately 33,558 bond forfeiture obligations are recorded would be, what about the other 33,000? My next question would be which 24 pages are being scrutinized?

Inspection of the records of the District Clerk of Harris County references 799 pages of bond forfeitures resulting from failure to appear in Harris County Criminal Courts, and each page represents an equal number of 42 defendants.

Of the 799 page document, 30 pages are attributed to the consolidated list of actual bail bondsmen, most of whom are currently in business and not in default on any bond forfeitures even though these current forfeiture obligations make up the majority of this section, as well as Attorneys who are now regulated and must place collateral as security with the County in order to write bail. The record reflects a minimum number of default bond forfeitures relating to bail bondsmen and Attorneys who are no longer in business. Of those bondsmen and Attorneys who are no longer in business a large portion of those individuals are deceased.

The other 769 pages of equal numbers of 42 defendants on each page reflects Government Pretrial Release bond forfeitures, cash bond forfeitures, and unregulated Attorney bond forfeitures, or a little over 96 percent of the total. A huge portion of these numbers reflect the time period between the mid 1980’s and mid 1990’s when a push for the utilization of Government Pretrial Release by the State of Texas was mandated down to Local Government in order to utilize Federal Funding that was allocated for the creation and utilization of Government Pretrial Release Agencies.

During this same time frame an untold number of bond forfeitures were not calculated to indicate true bond forfeiture numbers for Government Pretrial Release due to policies administered by the individual judges ordering that the Government Pretrial Release bond forfeitures be revoked and not forfeited and so therefore the forfeiture numbers would not be reflected in the County records which would directly reflect poorly on each individual judges decision making. This practice continues today, perhaps not as prevalent as it once was, but when your purpose is to deceive its difficult to keep track without a constant watchdog.

Since the Liberal Agenda has always had a tendency to reflect numbers in studies and in media print that reflect their ideals the bail bond industry must once again defend themselves by compiling hard numbers to reflect the truth, and so an in-depth study utilizing County records is currently underway.

Other credible independent studies have shown to reflect the exact opposite.

Anonymous said...

The excerpt below from a booklet entitled “Tax Payer Funded Pretrial Release a Failed System” referenced here on you blog recently with a link to download, after the NPR reporter’s slant was given a place for discussion, “NPR investigates Lubbock bail system” gives just as much reason to doubt this reporter’s investigation.

“Tax Payer Funded Pretrial Release a Failed System”

Private sector bonding is utilized by the courts to arrange for financially secured release pending trial of persons charged with crimes.
County Pretrial Services Agencies providing unsecured releases of such persons, routinely present three serious problems:

I. A HIGH FAILURE TO APPEAR RATE:
Any system is only as good as it is workable. A method of releasing
persons pending trial works if it gets those released back to court, and
there can logically be no exceptions to this rule, since this is the primary
purpose of any release system.
The determining factor then, in assessing the effectiveness of the pretrial
release program is: how good is it at getting persons back to court?
For Pretrial Release Agencies the answer is: not good at all. Numerous
very credible studies establish this fact:

U.S. Department of Justice, through its Federal Bureau of Justice
Statistics, measures performance of the two systems against each
other. Their research was conducted in the nation’s 75 most
populous counties and their formal report was published at the end
of 2007. They found that failures to appear on unsecured releases
were twice as high as those on surety bond.

The American Legislative Exchange Council did a similar study in
the three most populous counties in California and found: “A
defendant is more than twice as likely to fail to appear for trial if
released on government secured release without financial security
than if released on a private surety bail program.”

Thomas H. Cohen, a highly recognized statistician with the U.S.
Department of Justice, in 2009 completed a comprehensive
comparison of secured vs. unsecured release and their respective
appearance performances. He concluded: “…this analysis showed
that defendants released through surety bond were less likely to
miss their court appearances and become fugitives than defendants
released through other means…”

The Journal of Law and Economics, published by the University of
Chicago reports an extensive analysis of the performance
difference between public versus private release pending trial. The
conclusion was: “Defendants released on surety bonds are 28%
less likely to fail to appear than similar defendants released on
their own recognizance”, that is, their unsecured promise to
appear.

It is important to note that not a single piece of evidence has been put
forward to challenge these authorities. In fact, Pretrial Service officials
strive to keep their performance statistics hidden. One example is how
vigorously they oppose state legislation making it a requirement that they
post regular reports accounting for, among other things, their failure to
appear numbers. And this, despite the fact that any judge or prosecutor
will readily agree that failures to appear thwart the county’s system of
justice.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:05, if you're supposedly more credible than Lise Olsen, why are you anonymous? Why not put your name on your criticisms, if they're accurate, so your claims and sources can be verified?

OTOH, I suspect I know why. It's especially difficult to take you seriously since you admit you haven't actually seen the document on which Olsen based her story and are riffing off unrelated information. Get your facts first, then criticize her.

Every time this topic is raised some flaming anon shows up and posts the same, repetitive information and tiresome ad hominem attacks. For an industry that's supposed to be full of tough guys, nobody seems to ever have the balls to put their name on their comments. Funny, that.

Anonymous said...

Your response and what seems to be hostility is a bit unfounded. I’m asking questions of a news reporter’s story that hold merit, and should be asked. She was vague in her position by stating that bail bond companies and individuals owe the County for these outstanding bond forfeitures. Individuals are not bail bond companies, and then she presents the argument that the private bail industry should be in question. If this is her argument then why not present all sides of the issue and why be vague about what you are presenting?

It just isn’t too far fetched to ask these questions, I did not say that her story wasn’t credible or make any claims on behalf of the bail bond industry that can’t be verified without the need of supplying you with my identity.

It’s very easy to call someone cowardly, but the truth is that we have to work very closely within the criminal justice system and adverse political opinion can truly have an effect on an individual bondsman, it shouldn’t be that way, but it can be, and so anonymity is nothing more than safe precaution.

I have followed your blog for a long time and often agree with your perspective on many criminal issues; however your position on private bail always seems to be a negative one, at best you agree that lowering the bonds would be a step in the right direction, and I agree wholeheartedly. We (are) very good at what we do and this option cost taxpayers nothing. FYI in, 2009, approximately 6500 defendants were released on Pre-trial Release bonds in Harris County. With a current budget of $7,500,000.00 (seven million five Hundred thousand) and over 100 employees this tax payer funded program cost $1,153.00 for every free bail bond issued, not a couple of dollars as suggested here in the Lubbock blog. In addition, when a defendant forfeits his bail, there is no accountability, (no money) going into the County Treasurers purse. The bail bondsmen paid in approximately $5,000,000.00 (five million); it just can’t be that difficult to follow the math. The only thing that relates to the cost of bail bond companies in tax dollars are what it cost to study our performance, time and time again.

Your obvious approval of this article would be understood if in fact such a position held enough merit so as to demonstrate where within the Criminal Justice System the use of private bail has been ineffective in any category, including jail overcrowding which seems to be your hot point, we have accurate numbers on that as well.

Anonymous said...

The truth speaks for itself in any and all credible studies, in fact the only place where discrepancy can be found and questions raised are with the performance of Government Pretrial Release, they have and do in fact disguise records by accounting for inaccurate numbers in a shell game of appearances VS non-appearances. Just because a defendant appears at several court appearances and then to count those as appearances even though the defendant failed to appear at the only hearing that mattered, (the last one) is deceiving. And, when a pretrial bond is revoked and not forfeited once again a number disappears that should have been accounted for. And, even with their attempts at not showing true numbers their performance is still very poor.

What is so confusing is why it would be so important to (try) and establish otherwise; when the system of private bail which is utilized by all but 4 States in the U.S. works very well in performing the only thing that matters, (getting criminal defendants to court). The only possible answer is for the establishment of more governmental, bureaucratic, tax funded agencies that do not do what they were set up to do in the first place and do not perform well under any circumstances.

In your own link that you provided on this topic you reference the 2007 study done by federal report. That same report states that, “Compared to release on recognizance, defendants on financial release were more likely to make all scheduled court appearances. Defendants released on an unsecured bond or as part of an emergency release were most likely to have a bench warrant issued because they failed to appear in court.” You state that another reporter in Fort Worth offers information as if it is factual, and I have to wonder what information they used.

You state that the national failure to appear rate for surety bonds is 20% according to the 2007 federal report but fail to mention that not only is this the lowest rate compared to any other form of bail but the fugitive rate after one year is only 3% for private bail and is still the lowest, bringing us back to yet another report you site by The Texas Fair Defense Project. If bondsmen are doing such a poor job, how is it then that on national average their fugitive rate is less than a 3rd of unsecured release after one year, maybe because we not only pick up skips but often ask for assistance from law enforcement once we locate the fugitive. I have no idea where Andrea Marsh obtains her information but even when assistance is asked for the vast majority of skips are picked up due to the efforts of the bail bondsmen and that’s just a fact.

The typical Pretrial Release defendant represents a much lower flight risk than those defendants released through private bail, but yet our true appearance ratios compared to Pretrial’s doctored ratios are still better by more than 3 to 1.

Misinformation is misinformation and you are very correct in stating that maybe it just depends on who’s funding the study. In this case the same people who are funding the 2007 federal report are also funding Pretrial Release, (the taxpayers), and we are more than ok with their study.

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