New bill comes on the heels of Stringer report calling for ban on commercial bail

Commercial bail bondsmen pocket $16 million to $27 million a year in nonrefundable fees in NYC

Use of commercial bail grew in NYC by double digits in last two years, even as crime and arrests fell

(New York, NY) — Just four months after a groundbreaking report released by New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer detailed the pernicious and growing role of commercial bail bonds in the City’s justice system and called for a change in state law to ban them, a broad coalition of elected officials and advocates announced new state legislation to do so statewide. Sponsored by State Senator Brian Benjamin and Assemblymember Michael Blake, the new legislation would enact reforms called for by Comptroller Stringer to abolish commercial bail and end an industry that plays an unnecessary role as a middleman in the bail process in New York. Comptroller Stringer’s report from earlier this year found that even though crime, arrests, and jail admissions have fallen in the last two years in New York City, the use of commercial bail bonds grew by 12 percent and the total value of bond postings increased by 18 percent over that period.

The new bill sponsored by Senator Benjamin and Assemblymember Blake is consistent with bans already implemented by four other states. If passed, their legislation would be a major step forward in advancing much needed changes to our bail system by making our criminal justice system fairer while keeping millions of dollars from flowing into the hands of private bail bond companies, and helping the City to further reduce its jail population and close Rikers Island once and for all.

“Since we first proposed banning commercial bail in New York City, we’ve worked to turn this idea into a reality. Today, because of the leadership and partnership of Senator Brian Benjamin and Assemblymember Michael Blake, we’re taking a powerful step forward on the road to bail reform. Together, we’re demonstrating our commitment to ending a system that punishes people just because they’re low-income and only serves to enrich the bank accounts of private actors,” said New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer. “In the interest of justice, the private actors who profit off this backwards system, these operators who are making money off of misery – need to be put out of business. That’s how we begin to chart a new direction away from decades of failed criminal justice policies. No one should be incarcerated simply because they lack the ability to pay bail, and no family should be saddled with hidden fees and burdensome costs that foment recidivism. Commercial bail bonds should be banned in New York, and I’m proud to be part of this legislative effort to do just that.”

“It is not right that America should have different justice systems: one for those with money, and one for those without. Bobby Kennedy pointed out fifty years ago that the only factor that determines whether you go to jail before trial is how much money you have. Little has changed, and the bail bond business exploits this fact. People should not be faced with the decision between paying off a predatory bail bond business or going to jail. That is not the mark of a just society,” said Senator Benjamin. “Other states have already closed down the bail bond business and reformed or removed cash bail, and not only has the world not come to an end, crime continues to fall. A brush with the law now means you can be locked up just long enough to destroy your life. We can put this to an end and we should.”

“The commercial Bail Bond industry is another stain of criminal injustice that has perpetually lead to the incarceration of low income people for decades, and, it must end. No one should ever wonder if their opportunity for justice is contingent on what is in their bank account, who they know or what they are willing to sacrifice that is against their moral fabric. The legislation that Senator Benjamin, Comptroller Stringer and I are bringing forth is focused on ending a discriminatory practice and bringing us closer to true criminal justice. As we continue #BuildingABetterBronx and greater Empire State, the unfair business of making money off of the backs of low income people through the commercial bail bond industry must end immediately,” said Assemblymember Blake.

Commercial bail bonds are the most costly form of bail for taxpayers, defendants, and their families and loved ones. Unlike bail payments made directly to the courts, premiums paid to private bail bond companies are generally nonrefundable at the end of the case, even if the person appears at all court hearings. With relatively few people being able to make bail at arraignment, the widespread use of commercial bail bonds contributes to the tens of thousands of short-stay admissions to City jails that drive up costs for taxpayers.

In fact, according to the Comptroller’s report issued earlier this year, the private bail bond industry extracted between $16 million and $27 million in nonrefundable fees from New York City defendants and their families in the previous year alone. In addition, the Comptroller’s Office estimates that defendants detained because they are unable to pay bail lose $28 million in wages annually, exacerbating the already punitive consequences of New York City’s jail system, which hit communities of color and low-income New Yorkers the hardest.

Comptroller Stringer, Senator Benjamin, and Assemblymember Blake are leading an effort to ban commercial bail bonds in order to prevent this transfer of wealth from the pockets of New Yorkers to the private for-profit bail industry. Doing so would be consistent with existing State law, which already allows judges to set 8 forms of bail other than commercial bail. Research shows that these alternative bail options are as effective in ensuring that defendants show up to court without imposing the burden of nonrefundable fees that are associated with commercial bail bonds.

This legislation would also help reduce the number of people languishing in jail simply because they cannot afford bail. That’s because obtaining release with a commercial bail bond often takes days while other forms of bail can be paid faster and are more likely to minimize, and possibly avoid, jail time. As a result, this proposal will help contribute to New York City’s efforts to reduce the jail population and close the outdated, dilapidated, and immoral facilities on Rikers Island.

To see the proposed bill to ban commercial bail in New York City, click here.

To read the Comptroller’s initial report, The Public Cost of Private Bail, click here.