Every year, bail bond companies issue nearly $14 billion in bonds and bring in $2 billion in profit by charging families a nonrefundable premium based on the bail amount.Gillian White, “Who Really Makes Money Off of Bail Bonds?” Atlantic, May 12, 2017; and “Frequently Asked Questions About Bail Bonds,” Aboutbail.com.
Social media companies responded to this criticism about the bail bond industry’s predatory practices: in May, Google declared that for-profit bail bond companies could no longer purchase ads on its platform.David Graff, “Google Bans Ads for Bail Bonds Services,” Google blog, May 7, 2018.
Facebook, which also owns Instagram, followed suit.For Facebook’s statement on bail bond advertising, see Facebook, “Restricting Ads for Addiction Treatment Centers and Bail Bond,” press release (Menlo Park, CA: Facebook, August 9, 2018). Also see Kurt Wagner, “Here’s Why Facebook’s $1 Billion Instagram Acquisition Was Such a Great Deal,” Recode, April 9, 2017.
Google cited studies showing “that for-profit bail bond providers make most of their revenue from communities of color and low-income neighborhoods when they are at their most vulnerable,” and the companies implemented new advertising policies after consulting with such diverse interest groups as the conservative Koch Industries; the Essie Justice Group; the Vera Institute of Justice; and the racial justice advocacy group Color of Change.Graff, “Google Bans Ads,” 2018.
Legislators, too, are starting to put pressure on the bail bond industry. In August, Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) sent letters to 22 bail bond insurance companies requesting financial details and information about company policies.Joseph Neff, “Senators Take Aim at Bail Industry Backers,” The Marshall Project, August 6, 2018. But the industry is pushing back: the American Bail Coalition has pointed out that Congress does not regulate the industry, which is overseen on a state-by-state basis, and that the states that oversee bond insurers and agents already collect at least some of the requested information.Joseph Neff, “Senators Take Aim at Bail Industry Backers,” The Marshall Project, August 6, 2018. And federal legislative efforts to dismantle money bail stalled in 2018. In July, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced the No Money Bail Act, which would “formally end the use of secured bonds in federal criminal proceedings, provide grants to states [to fund] alternate pretrial systems . . . and withhold grant funding from states that continue to use money bail systems.”Office of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, “Sanders Introduces Bill to End Money Bail,” press release (Washington, DC: Office of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, July 25, 2018); and No Money Bail Act, S. 3271 (2018). A similar bill died in the House last year, and the No Money Bail Act fared no better in the Republican-led Senate in 2018.No Money Bail Act of 2017, HR 1437 (2017); and “As Federal Bail Reform Stalls, States and Cities Act,” Crime Report, July 26, 2018.
Regardless of regulation, the bail bond industry is already seeing fallout in some jurisdictions that have enacted bail reform. In New Mexico, where the state passed a 2017 constitutional amendment and new rules of court, by 2018 the number of surety bonds posted fell from 2,225 to only 351 in the state’s busiest court, Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court (Albuquerque), an 84 percent decline.Katy Barnitz, “Jail Bond Numbers Plummet,” Albuquerque Journal, September 6, 2018. Not all jurisdictions have followed the wave of bail reform and increased regulation of the bail bond industry, however. In North Carolina, where the North Carolina Bail Agents Association has taken credit for helping to pass 60 laws and the industry made more than $300,000 in political contributions between 2002 and 2016, HB 131 was set to ease restrictions on bail bond agents and surety companies until it was vetoed in June.North Carolina HB 131 (2018); and Joe Killian, “Bills Could Loosen Rules on Already Troubled Bail Bonds Industry,” NC Policy Watch, June 29, 2018