According to the Justice Policy Institute, there are approximately 15,000 bail bondsmen in the United States issuing about $14 billion in bail bonds each year. While bail bondsman jobs are similar to other types of financial services jobs like loan managers or insurance producers, they are unique in that they provides bonds, or loans, to a specific class of client—criminal defendants.
Most bail bonds jobs involve issuing bonds to clients in return for a percentage of the bail amount. In most states, this percentage can be as high as ten to 20 percent of the loan amount. In order to ensure the defendant appears for court and the bond is repaid, some form of surety is required. This is usually in the form of collateral like real estate, or it may be a co-signer who guarantees repayment.
Despite the usual practice of requiring collateral, most financial institutions are reluctant to engage in issuing loans to a high risk group like criminal defendants. Bail bondsmen, on the other hand, are willing to perform this type of duty for two reasons. The first is that the fees for issuing bonds are usually substantial enough to permit a bail company to cover the loss of a few forfeited bonds. The second is that most bail bondsmen employ bail recovery agents, more commonly known as bounty hunters, to pursue, apprehend and return fugitives for their court appearance. It is also uncommon to require the use of a bounty hunter, however, since local law enforcement officials arrest most fugitives.
In some jurisdictions, bail bondsmen do not even need to pay the full bail amount. In Texas, for example, if a defendant flees, the bail company that bonded the defendant is only required to pay five percent of the bail amount. In these types of jurisdictions, the loss to bondsmen is minimal.
Bail Bondsman Career Information By State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Rapid Growth in the Bail Industry
The bail industry has grown rapidly in recent years due to two significant factors. The first is the fact that judges raise bail amounts in order to limit pretrial release of defendants who pose a threat to public safety. This has raised the bail fees of most issued bonds without significantly adding additional risk to bail bondsmen.
The second factor is that more defendants are being allowed bail. Between 1994 and 2004, the number of defendants who were released on bail rose from 25 to 42 percent. The number of bailable defendants has increased in part because, most jurisdictions recognize that a large portion of defendants are not likely to be convicted and pose no threat to the public. According to a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 69 percent of criminal defendants are prosecuted and only three percent of criminal defendants are actually convicted of a crime. Also most local and county governments are unwilling to house large defendant populations in detention facilities as it can be very costly.
The bail industry has also experienced criticism from several defendants’ rights groups. Defendants who can obtain bail are more likely to serve less time and are less likely to engage in criminal activity again. Almost 97 percent of bail clients appear for their court dates.
Challenges for the Bonding Industry
While the bail bonds industry has been in existence for almost a century, in the 21st century this profession has come under criticism from a variety of social groups. Many of these groups point to the steep fees that are placed on these bonds as a type of usury that most defendants who are from lower socioeconomic classes are ill equipped to understand or pay. The bail bond industry has responded to these arguments by contending that without these services defendants would languish needlessly in jail, adding to overcrowded detention facilities and costing taxpayers significantly more.
The other challenge to the bail bondsman profession is the growing popularity of deposit bail. This type of bail involves a percentage of a bail paid directly to the courts for pretrial release. If the accused fails to appear for their court date, then they may be required to pay the remainder of the bail amount. Deposit bail is essentially the attempt by local governments to compete with bail companies. Bail bondsmen have employed strong lobby groups to stymy deposit bail systems which are more likely to result in a failure to appear than commercial bail bonds which employ bounty hunters to arrest fugitives.