The current monetary bail bond system used in most states, including Florida, has recently come under scrutinization and a bail reform movement has been gaining popularity. Under the monetary system, a defendant will be given a bond amount they are required to pay before they can be released from jail. The purpose of a bond is to assure the defendant appears at their court hearing by returning; the full amount of the bond is returned to them once they appear for all their court dates and the case is complete. Bond also protects the community from potentially dangerous individuals by keeping them incarcerated while their case is resolved.
Numerous concerns have been raised about the monetary system. If a defendant cannot afford to pay their bond they will remain in jail while their case is pending trial or is otherwise resolved simply because they do not have the financial resources to bond out. This can result in the rich being free which the poor remain in jail simply based on economics and not justice or public safety. This also results in defendants who have not yet been convicted of any crime and may very well be innocent spending time in jail, even if they are not a threat to the public and there is no reason to believe they would fail to appear in court. The more time an individual spends in jail the greater the risk they will face negative repercussions in their personal lives, including a loss of employment, housing, and strains on their interpersonal relationships. Having to remain in jail simply because they cannot pay their bond also increases the likelihood a defendant will take a plea deal that may not be in their best interest just to get out of jail sooner instead of remaining incarcerated while they take their case to trial, even if they are innocent. Incarcerating individuals who cannot make bond is also an increased cost to taxpayers.
The for-profit bail bond industry has been the main opposition to the bail reform movement. In the current monetary system, bail bondsmen will post the bond to get the defendant released for a fee that usually ranges around ten to fifteen percent of the bond amount. The bail bondsman then receives the full bond amount back when the defendant appears in court but keeps the fee charged to the defendant.
The bail bond reform movement has focused on several changes to the current system. These changes include requiring courts to consider a defendant’s ability to pay before setting a bond amount, prohibiting monetary bonds for nonviolent misdemeanor charges, only using monetary bonds for individuals who score high on risk assessments indicating they are likely to miss their court hearing or pose a threat to the community, and implementing pretrial monitoring and services as an alternative to a monetary bond. There have been some indications that pretrial services are more effective in ensuring defendants appear in court and reducing the threat to the community than monetary bonds.
The Florida legislature has recently considered bills reforming the monetary bail system, including a bill that would require the use of computer programs to calculate a defendant’s flight risk and whether the defendant poses a threat to the community before setting a monetary bond. Another bill would implement diversion programs as an alternative. While neither bill passed into legislation, it is likely that bail reform will remain a political hot topic. Until there is a reform to the current system, if you or a family member are in jail simply because your bond is too high to pay, an experienced attorney can request a bond hearing to address this with the court and possibly secure your release.