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Unable to Post Bail? You Will Pay for That for Many Years (nytimes.com)
108 points by rafaelc 14 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 128 comments

This is a very interesting data driven article that will make you depressed. I recommend it.

> Technological solutions, like electronic anklets that monitor an individual’s whereabouts, are another option. Even sending text-message reminders to show up in court makes it more likely that a defendant will do so. All these options are cheaper than incarceration.

I hope this gains popularity. Cash bail discriminates against the poor and is unfairly applied (see article); using technological tracking, check-ins, and similar might be a fairer solution that can be applied uniformly.

I would like to say on a more general note: The influence of money in US criminal justice seems to corrupt everything it touches. From prisons, to parole, to representation, to sentencing, and beyond. Everything we can do to get money's influence out of criminal justice we should do.

If I'm a bail bondsman, I'm probably already sending text messages to my clients to make sure they show up in court, because if they don't, I'm the one out the money unless I go pick them up and take them to the county jail myself. I'm not sure about ankle bracelets, but there's no reason they couldn't be part of the current bail system, either--if I'm a bail bondsman, I'd give a discount to any client that wears an ankle bracelet that I can track.

The thing is, there's only one county court. If the county court has a program of ankle bracelets and text messages and supervised release and that program doesn't work, there's no incentive for it to change. And there's no alternative for the suspect, either--the judge has final say. With cash bail, there might be a dozen bail bondsmen in the county all in competition, each with the incentive to provide competitive terms to the suspect while guaranteeing their presence at court.

How much competition is there going to be the bail bondsman for the homeless guy who gets picked up for vagrancy, or a poor person working paycheck to paycheck who already owes his soul to the local payday lenders?

Your proposal sounds like a great way to get excellent bail services for people who have money, but that’s not how the courts are supposed to work.

I'm not opposed to judges from releasing people of their own recognizance or under a different form of community supervision if that would be appropriate in that particular situation.

> Your proposal sounds like a great way to get excellent bail services for people who have money, but that’s not how the courts are supposed to work.

Sure about that? The way this country is heading is "One dollar = One vote". And once a sector gets accustomed to a stream of cash, there's no way to stop that flow of money.. No matter how dirty that money is.

I am sure that’s not how they’re supposed to work. How they actually work is another matter.

Are you being descriptive or normative?

I'm afraid I don't understand.

Are you describing the world as you see it (that's descriptive; obviously you are, not sure why GP is asking) or as you think it should be (that's normative).

I don't think private bondsmen in the US can legally contract to require people to wear ankle bracelets.

More fundamentally though, these sorts of "free market" theories tend to assume an unreasonable amount of options and knowledge of potential clients. See: payday loans. Sure, in theory all the details of the loans are pre-agreed, and customers sure do have a lot of options. In practice, the most ethical providers tend not to be the most successful.

I bet they have apps they could require people to stick in their phone which do the same thing.

If not, and you feel like contributing to the dystopian hellscape we live in: business oppos!

Phone aren't always on, aren't always in coverage and the app would have to be actually active when the phone is switched on anyway. How do you think it would work?

It would be a reminder app, and otherwise work exactly the same way as those creepy "spouse tracking apps" people use to catch cheating housewives.

Unless you plan on surgically implanting the phone, I don't think that's a bulletproof plan

I dunno have you seen human beings lately? Most people seem to be surgically attached to their nerd dild^H^H^H phones. Assuming the bailee is a rational and well intentioned actor (the article does seem to imply many people miss court because they forget), this is probably a reasonable thing to do.

> I don't think private bondsmen in the US can legally contract to require people to wear ankle bracelets.

Well, that's something to think about, then. It wouldn't even necessarily just have to be between the suspect and the bondsman; you might also allow judges to allow bail contingent on the suspect wearing a locating device.

This is the fully privatized "justice" system that Neal Stephenson parodied in Snow Crash.

Private bail bonds are an almost uniquely US phenomenon. Most other countries either go harsher and keep everyone awaiting trial in jail, or more humane and allow bail on conditions not money. Only America sees it as an opportunity for economic exploitation.

The best way to wither the system would be to speed up court proceedings.

The article also proves things that people were unwilling to accept in this article:


There people always made the point that human judges making just decisions based on fairness. Well, clearly not.

Algorithms would be another, better way to know exactly what makes the determination if a person should be released awaiting trial or not.

I'm very much against algorithms in criminal justice, particularly where it concerns a person's freedom (as in the case of bail and sentencing). I disagree very much with the entire premise of statutory treatment of alleged criminals. Indeed, many of the things people dislike about "bad judges"-- a lack of empathy/kindness/tolerance, an over- or under-estimation of the seriousness of the crimes or the seriousness of the threat of recidivism, a lack of interest in or consideration of the context in which the crime occurred, and an unreasonable faith in statutory sentencing-- can't be fixed with an algorithm. What the criminal justice system needs is not more rules. It's more flexibility.

>Algorithms would be another, better way to know exactly what makes the determination if a person should be released awaiting trial or not.

Isn't it a source of constant concern that the algorithms that end up being used in law enforcement inevitably end up employing the same stereotypes that their flesh and blood counterparts have?

But wouldn't algorithms be easy to examine? At the least you can test it with similar circumstances and modify the "race" variable and see if the results are consistent or different. Humans have many self-image protective layers when questioned (e.g. "I'm not racist, I have black friends!"), Bbut hopefully algorithms are more transparent...

Race variable is often correlated with other data.

Look at red lining in real estate/banking. They marked black neighbourhoods with red boxes, white neighbourhoods with green. The bank would approve business and home loans depending on if you were in a red or green area. Algorithmically the banks did not engage in a racist practice but systemically they are.

But did they mark red areas because they were black neighborhoods or because historically people in those neighborhoods defaulted on loans?

An algorithm as simple as "mark neighborhoods with high default rates as red, low default rates as green" would probably turn out to be "racist" even if it is also flagging poor white trailer parks with red.

There's no easy way to solve that

At least in the case of historic redlining (i.e. where the term came from), we don't have to wonder - there has been a ton of research done on this, and it was pretty clearly a racially motivated discriminatory practice. A fact which resulting in, among other measures, the fair housing act in the late 60s....

And it is very well known how to test and correct for that. In a human, however, it cannot be corrected. As you point out, it can be very hard to see what rules have to do with races.

I would argue that in some cases it's bloody hard to see that you're doing it yourself.

An algorithm can be racially biased, or have biases that significantly correlate with race, without actually having a "race" variable.

I think what he's suggesting is feeding the input data that differs only on that variable, and if the algorithm produces differing output, then it is by definition racist (and then you send the authors back to the drawing board to figure out why).

That's fair.

Machine learning models in particular are famously, fiendishly difficult to examine.

While agree with your general sentiment, you ought to point out that this very much depends on the algorithm in question. Things like decision trees/forests are quite observable.

> But wouldn't algorithms be easy to examine?

Examine by who? And would they be trustworthy?

They would be, but it turns out that humans make their own similar algorithms without realizing it.

>Algorithms would be another, better way...

Humans are flawed, and any system made by humans will be flawed. That's just reality. Whether the system is composed of human judges or human built mechanical judges, it will display the same biases of-, and will be vulnerable to the same manipulation by-, humans that exists today. People like cops and DA's will figure out, "Hey! Just feed it the right input, I'll get the output that I want!"

So if you want to switch to digital judges because you want to save some bucks by not having to pay the humans, well that works. But if you are expecting a better system at the aggregated mean, you're likely to be very disagreeably surprised.

we have ways to compensate for human flaws - like having a diverse group checking and balancing each other. it’s (seen as) inefficient but that doesn’t account for hidden costs like people’s lives being destroyed by injustice.

"There people always made the point that human judges making just decisions based on fairness."

I once had the 'pleasure' of working with a Magistrate. She was the most bigoted, opinionated person I've ever worked with. Judges are at best, just like everyone else.

I personally think the biggest problem is that people even track their "conviction rate", ESPECIALLY public prosecutors.

But it's worse for prosecutors: they get evaluated on it. Convicting people is all that matters. And then people complain the prisons are too full ...

If we replaced that metric by "how many years of freedom without serious crimes" did you create in defendants, using punishments ... and using just letting them go ... that would make a world of difference.

Those who will live by the algorithm will die by the algorithm.

People can be reasoned with, appealed to, threatened, or compelled in any number of circumstances, and that is human. Algorithms will simply be gamed and abused by those who control them.

I wish we would focus more on reweaving our tattered social fabric so people can access housing, healthcare, etc affordably and consistently. We also need to make it easier for parents to put their kids first. From what I gather, money spent on preschool reduces money spent on prison down the line as just one example of the direct and known connection between how we treat our kids and crime statistics.

I'm not saying we shouldn't try to address problems with our prisons and courts, etc. But I don't like the general trend in the world to improve fire fighting practices without doing fire prevention while frequently putting out the fire with gasoline, so to speak.

"Fire fighting" gets you hailed as a hero. "Fire prevention" tends to be dismissed as "You didn't really do anything. You just got lucky." Humans are super bad at counting the disasters that didn't happen, but should/would have. So "fire fighting" is more attractive, "sexy" and heroic.

But it's a really sick system that actively creates problems in order to give a few people the role of "hero" on the backs of the many victims of the system. And I would very much like to see less of that.

Agree wholeheartedly.

I'm British; our problems are quite different; but in my mind it's a similar principle.

Something that sticks in my mind is a tendency to focus on "the poor". The sense that there's an undefeatable "poor" by definition. We need "housing for the poor", "jobs for the poor", and so on and so forth.

This article is an example of it. It's basically saying "if you have no money bad things happen to you". Which is mind bendingly, blindingly obvious, in a world in which we've made money _everything_ and in which we've created conditions in which most individuals won't have much or any of it.

A solid example of that sort of firefighting.

What we actually need is for there to be no, or very few, "poor". For society to be less stratified, so that people can actually consider each other neighbours rather than essentially different species living on the same land.

I don't know how to achieve it, but I know that food banks and homeless shelters and "affordable" housing and all of these tweaks are really papering over our inability to just come out and say.. something?

Everyone who is willing to contribute to society gets to share in the wealth of it. I don't know what it looks like, but it doesn't look like the current situation.

""Fire fighting" gets you hailed as a hero. "Fire prevention" tends to be dismissed as "You didn't really do anything. You just got lucky." Humans are super bad at counting the disasters that didn't happen, but should/would have. So "fire fighting" is more attractive, "sexy" and heroic."

There is generally no respect for maintenance and things that last. Same in the corporate world. The people who keep systems running get labeled as "dinosaurs".

I stayed home with my kids until they were in their teens. I did so in part because I was molested and raped after my sister left for college and my mom began working, leaving me unprotected from a predator.

My kids were never molested. It was crystal clear in my mind that the single biggest thing I could do to protect them from predators was simply be present. They spent little time in daycare or home alone.

I am often reluctant to talk about that. Stay at home moms are treated like unambitious losers mooching off their gainfully employed husbands. Self proclaimed feminists are routinely really ugly to me and other women like me. Talking about the importance of a parent being there gets decried as being a misogynistic dinosaur advocating for women to be barefoot and pregnant.

I also have been told that my presence at home is not why my sons were never molested. I was merely "lucky" and I'm wrongfully trying to take credit for some random roll of the dice when I didn't actually do a fucking thing.

But I'm quite clear that civilization is mostly nurtured quietly by "thankless jobs" and the celebrated heroes are often a symptom of a failed system, so celebrating them sometimes strikes me as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

My sons understand the things I've done for them and they routinely tell me "You're an awesome mom and I'm so glad you raised me." But the rest of the world is pretty bad about making me feel like a total fucking loser with nothing of value to offer who doesn't deserve an adequate income and should stop whining about being poor.

So it's driven home to me daily that the world terribly undervalues quiet maintenance type work.

"So it's driven home to me daily that the world terribly undervalues quiet maintenance type work."

I always think about how little the cleaners at a company are paid. In a sense they keep the whole thing running but they get sooo little respect.

One of the reasons I ultimately quit my corporate job: during the recession, they cut back on janitorial to save money.

I was taking my own trash out of my cubicle every other day because I have a compromised immune system and it makes me too sick to work to leave trash there for two days.

I wonder how much productivity went down because of this one decision without anyone but me seeing any connection whatsoever.

It's simple market forces at work. There are a hundred million potential cleaners in the entire USA but less than a million potential developers. (made up statistics)

> There is generally no respect for maintenance and things that last. Same in the corporate world.

Of all places, HN should know this is true. So many devs hate maintenance to the point of snubbing their noses at anyone who does maintenance. "Oh, he's just a maintenance developer, he can't do what I do." I've actually heard devs say that about another dev. You would think that intelligence would prevent some of that behavior (because they should know better), but I guess not.

> "Fire fighting" gets you hailed as a hero. "Fire prevention" tends to be dismissed as "You didn't really do anything. You just got lucky." Humans are super bad at counting the disasters that didn't happen, but should/would have. So "fire fighting" is more attractive, "sexy" and heroic.

I was at a Fire Service training course this last few weekends. And something one of the Fire / Medics said really resonated with me.

"We save lives every day. Not in a heroic way. We just don't think of it:

We give the respiratory distress patient ventilations so they don't go into respiratory, then cardiac, arrest.

We give the overdose patient ventilations so they don't go into respiratory, then cardiac, arrest.

We give the anaphylactic patient epinephrine...

and so on, and so forth.

But we don't look at it as a 'save' unless they get to the brink of death (well, technically death, but still), and we bring them back."

We see this even in software development. Keeping a code base relatively bug free vs fixing a critical bug in production. If you do the first, many people will assume the work was trivial but you will receive accolades for fixing that production bug.

Thank you.

Dehydration can kill you in about two days. We don't treat restaurants as life giving either. We mostly decry them as sources of health problems -- obesity, diabetes, etc.

Feeding people is only life saving if you are feeding famine victims in Africa. It's absolutely not anything important if you are an American stay at home mom cooking from scratch to meet both budgetary and dietary restrictions.

Nope. Such people are obviously a waste of human potential.

It is scary how fast people can go down hill without water. We regularly go camping up on the MN/Canadian boarder in the BWCA - going lake to lake in canoes. Usually we pack in a filter (or chemical purifiers, way back) to make sure folks don't get beaver fever. One guy opted to not drink the purified water... and went downhill fast the next day. Had to paddle him out and take him to the ER. Not sure what he was thinking - that the .5L of water he took in was enough to get him through 3 days.

But why is our social fabric tattered and just what is this social fabric you refer to?

From my perspective, people accessing housing, healthcare, etc affordably and consistently has never happened, at least not in the USA. Things are much better now than 100 years ago, at least in terms of the existence of programs to help those in poverty. Before the "great society" programs there was pretty much only family and private/religious charity, otherwise the poor were on their own. Those were the days when you had 2 or three generations living in the same house -- out of necessity, not choice. Maybe medical care wasn't so expensive in those days, but it consisted of a doctor with a few basic instruments in a hand-carried leather bag. Not exactly a big difference-maker most of the time.

Our social fabric has changed considerably. People may have lived with extended family out of necessity, but it wasn't all downside. There was social capital of various sorts to draw upon that has largely disappeared.

We are in crisis in part because those things have changed and a lot of unanticipated collateral damage is not being adequately addressed. We find ourselves needing to pay for services previously provided by relatives while not having any budget for them or real comprehension of what was lost.

You may feel that what was lost was more downside than up, but that doesn't actually refute the fact that our social fabric has changed enormously in the last 100 years and those changes involve collateral damage.

A friend once said to me something like "I'm not trying to make things as good as they were a hundred years ago. I expect better than that. We have so much more knowledge now, I think we shouldn't settle for such a benchmark."

If things were all hunky dory, we wouldn't have articles on HN about the failures of the current system. I agree with the sentiment my friend expressed to the effect that we shouldn't excuse our current failures on the idea that "Well, it used to be worse! So just suck it up and quit your bitching!"

The homestead act was an affordable housing program that was a great success.

I'm part Cherokee. I'm trying to learn about that aspect of my heritage. My father was very white passing and I believe he actively tried to convince the world to perceive him as white to sidestep the horrifying impact of racism.

I imagine Natives probably don't feel so positive about the success of the homestead act.

A thing I wrote previously that really opened my eyes to how insidiously Native land and wealth was stolen by homesteaders:


That’s why the US is suffering now from the same problems a lot of older countries have had for a long time. There are no areas left where you can just kick out the Natives so now people have to fight for a fixed pie insted of being able to grow.

Except for the problem of having to get there. If you lived in Virginia and wanted to homestead in Nebraska, you'd probably need a wagon, team, tools, supplies, and seed. That was a significant capital requirement. If you were dirt poor, I'm not sure you could do it.

The problem was, we ran out of frontier. And we're not gonna get any more frontier anytime soon.

As someone[1] wrote, "The acquisition of new soil for the settlement of the excess population possesses an infinite number of advantages..."

After all, it seemed to work out pretty well for those 19th-century Americans.

[1] http://www.hitler.org/writings/Mein_Kampf/mkv1ch04.html

Well that was the craziest Godwinning I've ever seen.

This is brilliant and very well put.

Education, strong families, reducing inequality, communities, all do wonders for people more than 'fixing the bail systems'.

Its like endlessly troubleshooting bugs in a software program vs building it properly.

Its like endlessly troubleshooting bugs in a software program vs building it properly.

I like the programming analogy. Very apropos for HN.

The flawed criminal justice system is a foundational problem on the same level as access to housing and healthcare. This isn't window dressing, the disruption caused by any amount of incarceration can have lasting effects which can and do ruin innocent people's lives.

My best understanding is that poverty puts one at much greater risk of ending up a victim of the criminal justice system. If we dramatically shrink the size of the underclass and grow the size of the stable middle class, the devastation you describe should happen far less often, thereby giving society proportionally more resources per instance of crisis to try to properly remedy it.

Again: I'm not suggesting we shouldn't seek to address the problems with this specific system. I'm merely explaining why I think growing the middle class is a meaningful antidote to some of what happens here.

You should be a politician, I wonder if you are doing something in that direction? You've very good understanding of what needs to be done and who are affected.

Bail funds have emerged in many cities to help get people out of jail while they await their trial. If you are interested (and hopefully appalled) by how many people are locked in cages in the United States without being convicted of anything simply because they don't have the money to post bail, please find one and donate to it. Your money can keep working to get many people out of jail long after you donate.




I served on a jury where the guy was in jail for 3 days short of six months. He ended up being convicted on a charge which carries a maximum of 6 months. He almost certainly wouldn't have received 6 months (if any time at all), so inability to pay bail was the greater crime.

I'd like to know if anyone can run and start a new life somewhere else. Is it possible?

I suspect Bail is an anachronism in these modern times. 100 years ago you could jump on a train and virtually disappear, never be seen again. Now cops can track people's phone to see exactly where they are at any time of the day.

It's definitely a lot harder but not impossible to disappear today. If you have cash to avoid traceable spending you can still disappear today reasonably well.

Part of bail is also just to reduce the effort required between the arrest stage and the trial/judgement phase. I think ultimately some kind of monitored release via something like an ankle bracelet (for those at higher risk of trying to run), programs to make it easier for people to remember and make their court dates (text/call reminders and some kind of transit assistance) (for those at low risk of bolting) and just pretrial detention for violoent and dangerous arrestees will provide a cheaper and more just system eventually.

Unfortunately there's a lot of incentives against pretrial release because every time they get it wrong and the person commits another crime while on this release inevitably gets blamed on the system and it's VERY hard to argue the diffuse benefits of all the people who's lives weren't permanently ruined in the face of someone getting hurt.

If someone really wants to run they can still do so, but the story you hear from everybody who does it is that it's not worth it. You spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder and working petty jobs for cash and living in squalor because the nice places check ID. You also can't contact friends and family anymore. It's a sucky life.

I suspect Whitey Bulger preferred being on the run to the alternative. If someone decides "it's not worth it" and wants to stop running, all they need to do is turn themselves in. Their revealed preferences suggest that they prefer being on the run.

In some cases, once you flee/escape/skip-bail you will face additional charges (as well as likely getting a stiffer sentence for the underlying crime.)

The miserable life of being on the run might not have been worth the original threat being faced, but, regrettably, it may be worth the original threat + the new threat.

That's why every so often governments will have amnesty-like programs where you are able to turn yourself in with no extra consequences if you have a warrant. Or, for that matter, register for citizenship or legal status without fear of facing the legal consequences for the original illegal entry or overstay of visa.

Eh, while that's theoretically true, nobody's gonna invest the kind of resources you're talking about to catch someone accused of e.g. petty larceny.

Though I get your point is more about crimes that would, well, be worth trying to disappear over, still worth pointing out that you can effectively "disappear" across state/country lines depending on the severity of your crime.

Parking tickets will only follow you so far.

There shouldn't be fees of ANY kind in the justice system.

Exactly. Justice is a public concern and therefore should be entirely funded by taxes. The moment incentives other than serving justice are introduced (money, lawyer win rate, etc), the system is perverted.

Strictly speaking it isn't a fee. If you have all of the money for your bail you give it up but you get all of it back when you show up court. If you use a bail bondsman that's who charges you the fee. They are basically giving you a loan, and then they are on the hook to make sure you show up.

I guess I'm confused to why a system needs to have bail bondsmen - isn't the idea behind bail being something you can possibly give up but want to get back? Isn't bail bonds something you can't afford? Even just paying the fee might be too much for people, but the alternative is to wait in jail an unjust amount of time.

Most people don't have enough cash on hand to pay any amount of bail that would serve as an incentive for them to get back--especially not most people who get arrested on criminal complaints.

The bail bondsman actually provides another service to the court: he has the legal power and financial incentive to apprehend a suspect and return them to the custody of the court if you skip bail. In other words, instead of the county sheriff having to worry about apprehending everyone who skips bail, they effectively outsource it to the bail bondsman. The bail bondsman thus has an incentive to make sure you don't skip bail, or failing that, to make sure that he can apprehend you--and these risks are priced into the effective rate of interest on the bail bond. (Most "bounty hunters" in the US are just bail bondsmen trying to recover their suspect, or somebody working for or contracted by the same.)

It's a fairly underrated and underappreciated market mechanism where the entire problem of "making sure people show up to court if they are on trial" can be handled by a competitive market, usually more efficiently or humanely than most local governments would do themselves. But it involves money changing hands, which gets certain people all up in a lather about abolishing it.

> But it involves money changing hands, which gets certain people all up in a lather about abolishing it.

That's not the reason. The problem is that it requires innocent poor people to pay for the amortized cost of apprehending the guilty absconders, while rich innocent people do not need to pay anything (since they have the funds and will get their money back).

> It's a fairly underrated and underappreciated market mechanism where the entire problem of "making sure people show up to court if they are on trial" can be handled by a competitive market, usually more efficiently or humanely than most local governments would do themselves.

The idea that the US and the Phillipines, the two countries where bail is dominated by commercial bail bondsman, handle this matter more humanely than the rest of the world is, at best, not obviously correct and could use some support.

> It's a fairly underrated and underappreciated market mechanism where the entire problem of "making sure people show up to court if they are on trial" can be handled by a competitive market, usually more efficiently or humanely than most local governments would do themselves.

Given that many other countries don't have bail bonds at all, would you care to demonstrate how they're less humane in practice by citing some examples?

In many of those countries, you either have to post bail yourself (which isn't any easier on the impoverished suspect), accept some form of probation, or in some cases are just held in custody.

So, what is the aggregated outcome of those differences? How many people end up in jail there vs here? What's the average term? And so on.

Furthermore, many of those are democratic countries. If their arrangements are worse off, you'd expect some people - even if it's a small minority - to make note of that, and advocate to reform the system to be more like US. Are there any examples of that?

There are actually US states that don’t allow commercial bail, so the data for that should be available. You have to control for other factors, but there are fewer of those between states than between countries.

I don’t think many people even in the US understand the commercial bail bond system, and many people only learn about it from biased sources advocating to repeal it. It is a bit of a legal idiosyncrasy particular to the US.

> But it involves money changing hands, which gets certain people all up in a lather about abolishing it.

If you're found innocent is the bail fee rescinded?

If by “bail fee” you mean the money that the bail bondsman charges you, then no, it is not. You can basically think of bail bondsmen like a bank. You are borrowing money from them to get out of jail. Their fee is like a high interest rate on the loan. They are a completely separate entity than the court that decides whether you are guilty or innocent. For instance- if you hired a lawyer and were found innocent, would you expect the lawyer to refund you your legal fees? Same with the bail bondsman. He is just doing the job you paid him to do (get you out).

I wonder if the bail fees have increased over the years because of the existence of said bondsmen.

> if you hired a lawyer and were found innocent, would you expect the lawyer to refund you your legal fees?

The state ought to compensate a defendant for reasonable costs after a false accusation, at least as long as public defenders are infamously understaffed.

It isn't--which means that you do end up having to pay a decent amount of money if you get arrested and want to post bail even with a bondsman. A bail bond is basically a secured loan, and the bondsman's profit comes from what's effectively an interest payment on that loan. "People who just got arrested" are sort of a high-risk category of borrowers, so it can be a decent amount of money.

The bond is secured by your person--i.e. if the bondsman can apprehend you and take you to county jail, he gets his money back--but it's expensive and risky to do that.

So an innocent person who's unable to afford bail either has to wait in jail for their court date or pay a fee for their freedom? That doesn't seem inhumane at all?

It's imperfect, but no perfect solution exists.

If you're considered a low flight risk, you could be released under your own recognizance or released at a low enough level of bail that you can afford to pay the bondsman's rate. If you're considered a very high flight risk, you stay in jail. Cash bail is for the cases in the middle, and if you either abolish it or replace it with something less effective or efficient, more people will be considered "high risk" and denied bail.

If you can't afford to pay a bail bondsman, that means that the court has deemed you a high enough flight risk to require a high amount of bail, and it also means that every bail bondsman you meet also deems you a high enough risk that you don't get an affordable rate on the bail. By definition, that's a situation where literally nobody actually thinks you're actually going to show up to court of your own free will, and in that situation, there's no solution that keeps you out of jail.

> It's imperfect, but no perfect solution exists.

Make the police and courts fully fund their externalities, period. Private companies can still compete for the responsibility of keeping tabs on and apprehending fugitives, but the state should be paying the fee.

Right now the damages caused by police are effectively paid by an absurd reverse-lottery where the unlucky victims have to bear the costs of their own false imprisonment. There is little incentive for the police to not overzealously arrest and hold people, because it gets accounted for as effectiveness rather than the waste that it is. This has been so institutionalized that police even use it as an illegitimate punishment - eg "you can beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride". This is not the rule of law, nor justice.

Is it actually correlated to flight risk? Do they ever determine accused murderers are low risk?

Accused murderers are, everything else held equal, a greater flight risk because they have a greater incentive to flee. They're also less likely to be granted bail in the first place, because murder is a serious charge.

It's not a fee: you get it back just for showing up to court, whether you're guilty or innocent.

No, they charge you a fee in addition: "Bond agents generally charge a fee of ten percent for a state charge and fifteen percent for a federal bail bond, with a minimum of one hundred dollars in such states as Florida, required in order to post a bond for the full amount of the bond. This fee is not refundable and represents the bond agent's compensation for services rendered." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bail_bondsman

The bondsman charges you a fee to lend you the money to pay the bail; if you pay the bail yourself you get it back regardless.

You're not forced to use a bondsman, only if you cannot put together bail yourself. There's a decent argument that bails which require a bondsman violate the constitutional prohibition on excessive bails, but I don't know if that's been adjudicated.

Regardless, the judicial system is not charging you a fee.

The judicial system isn't charging you a fee, but it is setting a price where the only way for you to get out of jail is to be charged a fee. It's a fee for the poor, regardless if they are innocent of the crime or not. While it's not technically the judicial system, they are absolutely enabling it.

Cash bail is a terrible system, but not having it is worse. At least from what I understand, the states removing cash bail end up having the judges keep much more people in jail, as suddenly everybody is a flight risk.

This is a false dichotomy. There is non-cash bail too, and other systems of encouraging or ensuring people attend court.

Of course there are other options, but nothing gets people to show up quite like money does. I looked a fair bit and unfortunately have not found any statistics on holding rates before and after bail reform in the states doing so, neither have I found flight rates before and after, so if anybody could clear the air here I would greatly appreciate it.

John Arnold’s Artificial Intelligence Tool is systematically tricking judges to profit off criminals and unsuspecting taxpaying citizens.

John Arnold started as a non profit foundation, after deceiving cities to use their “Machine Learning”, they incorporated as an LLC anticipating profits using good unsuspecting judges as pawns. https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/news/laura-and-john-arnol...

After selling his Artificial Intelligence Tool to Washington D.C. there has been a 227% surge in crimes. “We have witnessed the tragic impact that a climate of hate and division can cause. The FBI report highlights how communities across DC must continue to confront intolerance and bigotry, and continue to work together to build and maintain an inclusive and welcoming city” – Anti-Defamation League https://www.washingtonian.com/2018/11/14/hate-crimes-are-up-...

The NAACP, ACLU, MIT and 100 other organizations panicking as John Arnold pushes his racist and secret machine learning algorithm to decide who goes to jail, “More than 100 civil rights and community-based organizations, signed a statement urging against the use of risk assessment.” https://www.technologyreview.com/s/612775/algorithms-crimina...

Criminal Justice is a human element, that needs to focus on humans deciding who goes to jail while we address real issues such as Community Development and Prison Reform. https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/justice-and-prison-reform/pri...

The justice system in the US is skewed towards profit. No real justice can prevail if the system favors money above all.

Cathy O'Neill wrote a terrific book a couple of years back called 'Weapons of Math Destruction'. It's a must read for those of us in this field - and generally a great eye opener.

It would behoove us all to think about the consequences of the algorithms we're working on - much like this article.

> In itself, an inability to pay bail after being arrested makes it more likely that you will be convicted of that offense,

That could be, at least in part, due to inability to post bail being correlated with actually, like, being guilty.

That and being unsophisticated and without a lawyer.

> The implications of the two studies are powerful and troubling. Being behind bars while awaiting trial had profound negative repercussions, and they were borne disproportionately by low-income people and by black people.

For pete's sake, and the umpteenth time, correlation doesn't imply cause and effect.

"Consider two defendants with similar backgrounds who were accused of a nonviolent property crime or misdemeanor. By the luck of the draw, one faced a lenient judge and was released, and the other got a different judge who set an unaffordable bail amount

The detained arrestee was more likely to appear in court for his trial.

But he was also more likely to be convicted."


The Judge knew what he was doing in setting a higher bail for the one who was convicted.

This whole narrative hinges on the study authors knowing more than the Judge what a proper level of bail is - despite not actually being there.

The intention of bail is to ensure that defendants who are not jailed show up to trial, not to prevent guilty suspects from being free before their conviction.

I'm surprised that one of the simplest solutions hasn't been tried. Bail bondsmen are restricted by statute on how much they can charge; we should at least consider lowering the rate from 10% to something much lower (1-2%?) and putting tools like follow-up text messages, etc., in the hands of these agencies. It's not ideal but it is in their best interest to ensure that their clients show up in court rather than have to chase them down.

I would be surprised if there's anything preventing bail bondsmen from sending text messages to their clients. I mean, there's nothing preventing them from physically apprehending their suspects after they skip bail, so sending a text message is definitely within their means.

The problem with lowering the maximum rate is that this would put high-risk suspects in jail since they wouldn't even have the choice of making bail. Which is the same problem with abolishing cash bail. With cash bail, if someone's a higher risk, the judge can set a higher level of bail in case there's a bondsman willing to stick his neck out for him.

2% of a bond is laughable. A lot of bonds for misdemeanors are 500 or 1000 usd. So someone could bail out for 5 or 10 bucks! A more serious crime with a 10,000 bond, at 2%, one could get out for 200. I have never ever heard of anyone getting a text from a bail bondsman. If you dont show, you break your bond agreement, and get arrested on a warrant for failure to appear!

>The study found that being held in jail while awaiting trial also makes it more likely that, two to four years after an initial arrest, you will be engaged in criminal behavior or unemployed.

Correlation vs causation, yadda yadda

Thankfully, there’s more to publishing in top journals than ‘yadda yadda.’ Instrumental variables allow for statements about causality, which is exactly the statistical tool the authors used.

With the ubiquitous tracking technology we have these days, why are we still putting innocent people in jail? It's barbaric and unjust. Give them a GPS bracelet and let them go home or wherever they want. Or have we given up completely on the "innocent until proven guilty" idea?

Suppose someone is accused of a mass shooting, murdering their neighbor, beating up their spouse, carjacking, or armed robbery. Right then, off you go; just wear this bracelet...

Doesn't seem particularly reasonable to not incarcerate anyone before trial.

Posting a cash bail has no bearing on your risk to the public. If a judge thinks that you pose a high risk, you shouldn't be offered bail at any price; if you don't pose a significant risk, you should be offered bail conditional on your behaviour during the bail period rather than your ability to pay.

The vast majority of people on bail aren't mass murderers or armed robbers, they're petty criminals and drug addicts. If you think a shoplifter might reoffend while on bail, then make his bail conditional on staying away from the local mall. If you think a domestic abuser might reoffend while on bail, then make his bail conditional on having no contact with his spouse. If you think that someone might abscond, then make his bail conditional on GPS tagging or regularly signing on at a police station.

Bail conditions (with suitable monitoring) are fairer and more effective than cash bail.

Bail conditions are all well and good, and it's not an either/or--even if you pay cash bail for a domestic violence charge, you're still required to stay away from the alleged victim.

The purpose of cash bail is to make sure the suspect shows up to court. Which--sure, can be replaced with monitoring, and then instead of having a bail bondsman pick up bail-jumpers at zero cost to the taxpayer, the taxpayer can pay the sheriff's department to round up bail-jumpers instead.

Sounds like a win win situation. We get rid of the scummy bail bonds men and we make the sheriff so his job all the while not putting innocent people in jail. Oh, what's that? You'd rather have innocent people in jail rather than paying the sheriff to do his job every once in awhile? That's quite an immoral position.

I think it makes sense to jail people who are an immediate harm to others like serial killers and some spousal abusers. Jailing for even things like armed robbery and carjacking seem often unnecessary if you can track people, very few people will keep carjacking and armed robbing while under surveillance like that.

I wonder if there's a way to surgically implant a GPS transmitter so that they a) can't take it out with a high risk of dying and b) can be tracked by satellite. I suspect that the battery would be the big problem.

On the one hand, if we're gonna do surgery on someone to surveil them hopefully it would be reserved for people actually convicted of a violent crime. On the other hand, I'd very possibly want the surgery myself if I thought the alternative was spending months in jail awaiting trial.

Compulsory surgically-implanted surveillance transmitters after being charged with a crime seems… extremely dystopian?

For people not yet convicted, I agree. For the already convicted it seems less dystopian than locking them in a concrete and steel cage with violent felons.

Aren't the "violent felons" in prison, while those not yet convicted held in jail?

Typically yes but it's not a fast rule. Prisons are for longer stays, but a shorter felony sentence may be served in a local jail. I knew a convicted violent felon who did most of a year in jail. His next crime was to kill his family and himself. Surveillance wouldn't have helped.

Is there a depth you can install something like that so that it's simultaneously not terribly invasive of a surgery and not able to be pulled out a determined individual?

I would be HIGHLY against this idea of an implant, it feels far too distopian (and I'd argue possibly against a person's right to their body).

I'm not in the medical field but I'm sure there's many places such as "closish" to an artery that trained doctors would have no issues getting at but a random joe with a switch blade may have issues with. I'd figure just detecting the temperature change and alerting the authorities would be easier though, then you can place it just like a standard animal tracker, e.g. a needle in their arm/back.

Oh yeah, it's horrifying to even consider.

I doubt that being close would deter, it would just lead to more desperate people committing a form of suicide for freedom.

Mass shooters are almost never captured alive anyway.

And this is completely irrelevant to the point at hand.

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