Who is in Jail and Why?

There is a false public perception that jails across the country are overcrowded with people who have committed non-violent crimes and are in jail simply because they cannot afford bail.

Non-violent crimes include those that do not involve the use of force or cause injury to an individual. Economic damage and loss to an individual determines the seriousness of the non-violent crime and often involve a property crime such as larceny or theft. Prostitution, drug and alcohol-related crimes and other white-collar crimes are considered non-violent as well.

Violent crimes involve the use of force and injury to an individual with the seriousness determined by the degree of physical harm caused or the type of weapon used. Examples of violent crimes include murder, sexual assault, assault and battery, false imprisonment, domestic violence and robbery.

According to the 2019 report from the Prison Policy Initiative, there are over 460,000 individuals held in jails across the country that have not been convicted of a crime. Those charged with violent crimes make up the vast majority of this population, followed by drug and property crime arrests.

An arrest by law enforcement is a serious matter because they are taking away someone’s fundamental right to freedom. Therefore, there are procedures law enforcement must follow for a legal arrest. To be arrested for a crime, a law enforcement officer must have either personally observed a crime, the officer has probable cause to believe a person committed a crime or the officer has an arrest warrant issued by a judge.

The debate around bail reform in this country centers on the concept that people in jails and prisons are overwhelmingly poor compared to the overall population. Thus, the criminal justice system punishes poverty, beginning with the cost of bail.

According to The Poverty-Crime Connection, studies show that people resort to crime only if they determine that potential benefits outweigh the cost or consequences of committing that. Therefore, people living in poverty are more likely to commit burglary, larceny or theft. Neighborhoods, where the poor are concentrated, are more prone to high crime rates, and poor residents are the most common victims of crimes.

Proponents of bail reform continue to lead misguided efforts to release accused criminals on unsecured release methods that encourage unaccountable outcomes. Repeat and dangerous criminals are being released back into the very neighborhoods that proponents of bail reform claim they are representing – the poor and the indigent. Such dangerous criminal justice reforms are enabling habitual offenders and disavowing the rights of victims and law-abiding citizens.

The commercial bail industry guarantees the appearance of a defendant in court and assumes the financial risk if the defendant fails to appear. The industry does not make release decisions or set bail amounts – the court does. The industry agrees that any release decision should be based on a defendant’s criminal history, to include prior failures to appear, and any danger posed to the community. The industry is user-funded and not taxpayer-funded.

Bail agents assist individuals every day to gain their freedom and return back to their family, jobs and community. We make it possible for defendants who have large bonds based on their offense and criminal history, to be released for a small non-refundable fee, a fraction of what the total amount of the bond is. Likewise, those with smaller bonds can also be the “bread and butter” business for bail agents.

Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. However, we all wish to raise our families in a safe environment. We expect that those who choose to commit a crime will face the consequence of that action – whether they are poor or wealthy.

Victims of crime should not be re-victimized by the unaccountable release of defendants who have committed a crime against them. We all want justice served and to be able to live and work in our communities without fear.

From the very beginning, the institution of bail has been built around the fact that not everybody is going to have enough resources to post the amount of bail required. That’s just inherent in the concept of bail and courts have consistently rejected the argument that the Eighth Amendment, the excessive bail provision, gives someone the right to affordable bail.

The commercial bail industry has a long and historic partnership in the criminal justice system. The purpose of bail is to ensure the appearance of a defendant in court. Commercial bail has done this for generations in the U.S. with an astounding record of accountability at no cost to the taxpayer. It is a system that protects our communities and should continue to do so.