Behind the Bail Bond System


For an inability to make bail amounts as small as $50, Americans charged with non-violent, often petty crimes sit in jail for weeks, even months. But the revelation of National Public Radio’s three-part investigation is not just that indigent people can be hapless pawns of our bail bond system, it’s that taxpayers foot the bill, spending a national average of $60 a day to incarcerate, clothe and feed a half million detainees who haven’t even had a trial yet. It adds up to a staggering $9 billion annual tab. Correspondent Laura Sullivan also explores “pretrial release” programs, a vastly cheaper alternative to bail bonds, and why they’re not used more widely. One reason, she finds, is heavy lobbying and campaign donations by the bail bond industry to preserve its lucrative niche. Repercussions from NPR’s broadcast include the U.S. Justice Department’s announcement that it will hold a national conference to examine the issue and the American Bar Association’s proposal of a thorough study of bail bond practices. For demystifying and raising serious questions about a critical component of our justice system, a Peabody is awarded to Behind the Bail Bond System.


Correspondent: Laura Sullivan. Editor: Steven Drummond.