Monday, September 26, 2011

Bail bondsmen not hurting for business in Harris County

On Saturday, Grits assessed a report from KHOU in Houston claiming that bail bondsmen could barely make a living because of increased use of personal bonds for felonies, which the TV station said increased 90% over a three year period. Today, reacting to the story, the director of Harris County pretrial services distributed the following data to county stakeholders in response to concerns about that story:
The KHOU figures regarding personal bond releases are not accurate.

Comparing January-August 2010 with the same time period for 2011:
1. Arrests for defendants with felony charges are down 4.2% in 2011 compared to 2010 (24,255 in 2010, 23,229 defendants in 2011)
2. Similarly, the number of defendants with a felony offense receiving a personal bond is down too, but the decrease is greater at  12.3% (439 defendants in 2010, 385 in 2011).  There is a 43% increase in personal bond releases if you compare the same time frames in 2011 with that in 2008.  Then, 270 defendants with a felony offense received a personal bond.  However, the January-August 2009 releases (414) were higher than what we have experienced so far in 2011.
3. Defendants who had a felony offense and who were released on a personal bond in 2011 represent 1.7% of the defendants arrested with a felony arrest, in 2010 that percent was 1.8%.  It was 0.9% in 2008 and 1.5% in 2009.  If you compare the percent of defendants arrested for a felony who got a personal bond, that increase is 88.9% (.9 % increasing to 1.7%).  But that would be a rather disingenuous portrayal of personal bond release activities.
Did you see the Grits article on the KHOU piece? Puts the 90% increase figure in perspective.
Just as Grits suspected, the large percentage increase more reflects how seldom personal bonds have come to be used in recent years as opposed to a significant change in how many are issued. It's one thing to say the number of personal bonds increased 90% from 2008 to 2010, which sounds like a big number. It's quite another to say bonds increased to 1.7% from .9% of all felonies over that period, and actually declined in the year following compared to the high water mark cited in the KHOU statistic.

Bail bondsmen aren't hurting a bit in Houston: They still have tens of thousands of felony defendants who're required to post bonds, even after a minor uptick in defendants released on their own recognizance. No doubt, bail bond companies would prefer that courts never use personal bonds and that every defendant charged with a crime were held in jail unless they post significant bail. But that doesn't mean that's best for the taxpayers or good public safety policy, particularly given the county's jail overcrowding quandary. Reporters would do well to doublecheck or at least provide greater context for stories where their main sources are rent seeking bail bondsmen. It's too easy, as in this case, for self-interest to taint data or misrepresent it in ways that don't reflect what's really going on.


Anonymous said...

Wonder what % of those receiving a PR bond fail to appear versus those who post a surety bond.

Anonymous said...

how many of these bonds are for technical violations of probation?

Anonymous said...

It is only about the money,... public safety, ha!. Why else would there be 2nd and 3rd offenses for DUI or DWI. Why in one case is a charged man still walking around, driving for another year when he caused a car accident that killed a mother just on her way to work at 7 in the morning, while he was drunk.
As long as fines paid, bail posted, lawyers wheeling and dealing, there will be no regard for public safety.

Texas Maverick said...

Back to discussing the topic, stats can reflect whatever you want them to reflect. Stats are just a reflection not the actual figures. As Grits says, what's the rest of the story? Who wants this slant and why? Glad there was an effort to put some real data out, but that won't be read by the couch potatoes who only watch the sound bites and never take time to read and study data. I doubt any bondsmen are looking for a new job or applying for public services now or in the near future.

Old Cop said...

I'll tell you what's revealing many times... Check the campaign contribution reports of the elected prosecutor. I've done it in several counties and have frequently found that among the campaign contributors are bail bondsmen.

Ken W. Good said...

Your article shows a surprising naivette about bail bonds that surprises me. The purpose of bail is to get someone to appear in court for any hearing or trial. The private sector has the greatest track record of any bonding system and has been referred to as the grease that keeps the wheels of the Criminal Justice System rolling. People who receive a free government bond are twice as likely not to appear as a person on a private bond. Also, when someone on a pretrial bond fails to appear, the court issues a warrant which is added to the other over 80,000 warrants waiting to be served. The defendant has to commit another crime to get back into the system. Many times these other crimes can be quite violent. When a private industry defendant fails to appear, the surety has an incentive to find the defendant and get him or her back to court as soon as possible. The truth is that many courts do not want people on pretrial bonds because it just causes delay. So I am left wondering why would the taxpayers be giving out free bonds to people who fail to show up when they have them and who fail to pay when they break their promise to appear. I think it was Philadelphia that reported two years ago it had $1.4 billion dollars in uncollected pretrial bonds. No thanks. Pretrial bonds just cause more problems than they are worth.

Ken W. Good said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gritsforbreakfast said...

Let me guess, Clyde, you're in the biz?

There are plenty of examples of taxpayers left holding the bag under private bail systems and good reasons why virtually every other country on the planet has done away with private bail.

Counties can't afford to lock people up just so you can mulct money from them. There has to be an actual public safety benefit to justify incarceration, and when there is not, personal bonds for pretrial defendants are not only justified, they save taxpayers (a lot of) money.

Anonymous said...

Add to that the fact that the federal system doesn't take money for bail. Seems to work okay there. The bail system is all about money. The bondsmen make money, the county makes money, the judges, prosecutors, and sheriffs get their kickbacks. That's the "grease" that keeps the system running. I'd prefer a system that is a little less greasy.

titfortat said...

In Harris County private bail has nothing to do with who or how many get locked up, nor does private bail have any control over the amount of bail set by the court.

And, as with any business if you do not perform (you’re out of business), overall they do have a much better track record than that of government free bail in every possible aspect, appearance ratios, re-apprehension of fugitives, crimes committed while on out on bail, and they do so at no cost to taxpayers and in fact they pay into the system when they fail to perform.

Using jail overcrowding as a scapegoat with which to blame private bail and thus pointing the tax finger in their direction is quite a stretch.

Government free bail has zero accountability to go along with a very poor yet heavily tax supported record of underachievement in all aspects of bail yet when they fail to perform instead of going out of business they expand and continue to add more government employee wages and healthcare cost to the taxpayers.

In Harris County private bail performs and if they do not then yes they are required to pay up or go out of business and from time to time a bail bondsman goes out of business, along with the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker. Unfortunately theses days a lot of private businesses are going under, but it seems the government jobs are still being added on to the taxpayer’s dime.

The truth is that the overwhelming majority of bail bondsmen in Harris County do get defendants to court, do apprehend the absconders, and do pay up if they fail to perform until they either retire or die.

On the other hand Government free bail performs poorly, adds additional burden to an already stretched list of open fugitive warrants, has zero accountability when they fail to perform and operate solely on tax dollars.

Your math doesn’t add up.

To address your jail overcrowding issue, and since this seems to be your only way of attaching private bail to any form of cost to tax payers, the simple solution rather than simply releasing defendants through tax payer funded government bail with zero accountability would be to lower the amount of bail required, at least then someone would be accountable and it wouldn’t be the taxpayer.

Your argument as to whether a person should or should not be arrested in the first place has quite a bit to do with the actions of the person in question and whether or not they should be held accountable for any responsibility at all in those actions.

Criminal welfare holds a different role in the public eye than that of any other form of welfare. Taxpayers understand the need for police, courts and jail, their understanding of tax supported jail release falls under the category of,in the famous words of Scooby Doo “Rot ro.”