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Bail Bond Agents: Making Sure People Show up for Court

Friday, June 10, 2011

The recent article published on discusses the possibility of bringing commercial bail back to Wisconsin for the first time since the 1970s.

Bounty hunters, bondsmen or bail enforcement agents, regardless of what you call them, are likely coming to Wisconsin soon.

Joint Finance Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, added a bondsman provision to the proposed state budget late Friday, the last day the budget was in his committee. Details have been scarce about how it would work, in part because the state Department of Safety and Professional Services would determine some of the new rules.

Yet experts and practices common in other states can shed some light on what it would be like to bring bail bondsmen back to Wisconsin for the first time since the 1970s.

How it could work

Under the current system, the accused in jail often must come up with bail to be released. If they don’t show up for court, they could lose the money forever.

When a bail bond is set, the people in jail or their families and friends must pay the full bail amount to get them out, said Samuel Christensen, Racine County Clerk of Courts administrative deputy. That is unless there is a signature bond, where only a signature is required.

Under the new system, when bail is set it would be possible to pay one-tenth of the bond amount to a bail bond company.

“$5,000 for $50,000 (bail),” said Tim Roby, spokesman for the American Bail Coalition.

As in other states, the company would typically pay the bond amount needed to release the accused and it assumes the risk that the accused will show up for court.
Bail bond companies typically earn a profit by keeping the tenth of the bond amount that they charge as a fee, regardless of whether the accused shows up for court.
If the accused doesn’t show up for court, the company could lose the posted bail.

Some states provide up to six months for bondsmen to apprehend and bring in bail jumpers, said Linda Braswell, who owns a Florida bail agency and is the president of Professional Bail Agents of the United States. But it is not yet clear if Wisconsin will give any extra time.

In other states, bondsmen have the ability to apprehend people to get them to court, Braswell said.

Bondsmen in Wisconsin will have the ability to arrest people with handcuffs to get them to court, Vos said. Those bondsmen would have to be state-certified and agencies will have to pay a $1,000 annual licensing fee, Vos said.

In some cases, the accused flee and cannot be found. For their own protection, bail bond companies sometimes require collateral as a guarantee, Braswell said.

The case for bondsmen
When commercial bail bondsmen are involved with a case, “no one has a better (court) appearance rate,” Braswell said.

No bondsmen in this country could survive for any period of time if their loss ratio was more than 2 percent, she said.

Vos said there is a huge cost to local government when people don’t show up in court.
“Anything that gets criminals off the street and increases efficiencies in the systems is a win-win to me,” Vos said of commercial bail bondsman systems. “We need a way to hold people accountable.”

The case against bondsmen
State Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, who fought to repeal the state’s commercial bondsmen program as part of the budget in 1979, said bondsmen create corruption in the judicial system.

When Kessler became a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge in 1972, the first person at his door asking to take him out to lunch was a bail bondsman, he said.

The judges have the ability to determine what type of bail people can be let out of jail on, Kessler said.

They could issue signature bonds. But with the influence of bondsmen, Kessler said, some judges will not.

“Judges become indebted to campaign contributors,” Kessler said, referring to bondsmen.

Two Republicans voted against Vos’ proposal in the Joint Finance Committee. Kessler said he is hoping the Legislature will take it out of the whole budget.

Original Article:
Bail bondsmen: In the business of making sure people make court dates

By Stephanie Jones
June 9, 2011