“FREE BAIL” Denied: Hats off to San Mateo County

I would like to dedicate this blog post to the hard working men and women in the San Mateo Criminal Justice System. On behalf of the AIA family of insurance companies, the oldest and largest surety bail underwriters in California and the country, I would like to extend a “job well done” to the decision makers who did not drink the Pretrial Justice Institute’s jug of Kool-Aid.   If you didn’t read the recent OP-ED piece in the Daily Journal out of San Mateo County this week, then you missed a misguided and misinformed OP-ED article by consultant and apparent friend of the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), Bob Cushman.  For those of you who don’t know who PJI is, they are the left wing radical group that has made it their mission to install a taxpayer funded “FREE BAIL” program in every county throughout the country.  The ultimate goal: to eliminate thousands of small, family run bail bond businesses and the commercial bail industry altogether…but I digress.

Based on the article, Bob is pretty upset that county officials didn’t move forward with PJI’s taxpayer funded criminal welfare system recommendations.  According to Mr. Cushman, the county is “resisting the adoption of modern, evidenced based practices to reduce the 76% of people in our jails pending trial.”  Let’s quickly break down that last statement.  First, “resisting” is a pretty strong word coming from a supposed independent objective consultant. Maybe they aren’t “resisting” but rather making a smart informed decision based on what’s best for the county.  In fact, their “resistance” is based solely on a study that PJI did for the very purpose of installing their program into San Mateo County.  So to call an objective decision “resistance” is certainly stretching it a bit.  Then again, that is pretty much a common practice of the folks at PJI…it is their way or the highway.


Next, let’s look at the words “modern, evidenced based practices.”  One would think that “evidence based practices” require actual evidence.  Has anyone ever produced evidence of these so called modern techniques they use to let people out of jail for FREE with no accountability?  I know I haven’t seen any evidence.  I also know that we have asked PJI for their statistics that show the results of the program, but continue to get excuses and red tape.  The fact is: there already are statistics.  The U.S. Department of Justice has studied pretrial release for many years and has statistics that show how well…or how poorly these “modern, evidenced based” pretrial release programs perform. Just an FYI: secured release, i.e. commercial bail, outperforms these taxpayer funded “FREE BAIL” programs in terms of appearance rates by almost 2 to 1.  But since those statistics weren’t good for their side, PJI used their influence to have the DOJ rescind over 20 years of research.


So it has become very clear and obvious that research isn’t PJI’s expertise.  Just look at last week’s recent Star Telegram article out of Tarrant County Texas that uncovered how a PJI promoted program was calculating their failure to appear rates (FTA).  While the commercial bail industry calculates its FTA rates, we use a “defendant based” approach…that is, when a defendant misses any of their court dates, it is considered a 100% FTA.  Pretrial Services, on the other hand, calculates their FTAs using a more liberal event-based approach…that is, when a defendant misses his trial date, but did manage to go the previous 3 times he was called, they only count it as a 25% FTA.  The fault here is the bigger the number you divide by, the smaller the result.  So are these really “evidenced-based” practices or “fantasy-based” practices.  We think they are the latter.


Lastly, Mr. Cushman mentions the statistic “76% of the people in jail are awaiting trial.”  We think that is a great number…a great number that needs to be studied.  PJI is selling their red herring that the jails are crowded because people can’t afford a bail bond.  This statement is anything but a fact.  I just recently blogged on this topic and you can read that blog by clicking here.  The high level summary is that bail bonds are not unaffordable.  Yes, some bails, especially in California are set too high (and the bail industry advocates a review of the schedules), but with flexible financing and credit options (just like any other industry offers), any consumer can get a bail bond.  In this tough economy we have done what any other business does: we have developed a pricing model to accommodate the marketplace.  So people aren’t languishing in jail because of the commercial bail industry.  Our industry fully supports a study of jail populations to determine who really is in there.  We are confident that the results will show that commercial bail is not the problem…but rather in our opinion, may very well be the solution (see my other recent blog post).


We think that PJI needs to take its cross hairs off the commercial bail industry and focus more on perfecting the programs and processes that pretrial programs were designed to operate.  The bail industry has no objections to the existence of Pretrial Service Agencies.  As an industry, we believe that they play an essential role in helping special needs defendants get the help they need.  However, as citizens and members of our own local communities, we do have an objection to those programs releasing individuals out of jail on simply a promise to return, with little to no supervision or follow-up, and no accountability when they don’t show up.  As community members, we object to our public safety being negatively impacted with our own tax dollars.


So I am sorry that Mr. Cushman is unhappy that PJI’s research report, with its smoke and mirrors, didn’t convince San Mateo’s leadership to spend millions of dollars funding another ineffective government program.  At the same time I am proud of San Mateo for being smart about how it spends taxpayer dollars.  I am proud of San Mateo for supporting small, family owned, private businesses.  And I am proud of San Mateo for looking out for the public safety of its citizens.

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