The boring truth about the Big Bad Bail Bondsman
I can pretty much say with certainty that every conversation I have ever had with anyone about what I do for a living has included the following three questions:
• Wait — did you say bail bonds?
• Is it dangerous?
• Do you know Dog the Bounty Hunter?
Yes, it never ceases to amaze me how people react when they hear the words “bail bonds.” It seems their minds are almost instantly filled with visions of dark alleys, mobsters, car chases, shootouts and other portrayals straight out of Hollywood. None of it is true — but it’s hard to blame them. Most folks have been taught or programmed to believe this image based on how screenwriters, crime novelists and reality television producers have portrayed bail. To me, it is truly one of the most misunderstood professions in the world.
The upside to people having such misperceptions is their resulting shock and disbelief — followed by ultimate understanding — that follows once they learn the reality. It’s what makes it so much fun to meet and talk with people about what I do!
So — what are some of these misperceptions that I’m talking about? Following is a list of the five most commonly misunderstood facts about bail:
#5 – The only difference between a bail agent and a criminal is what side of the bars each one is on
Bail agents are not just like criminals. The majority of bail agents are hard-working, small, mom and pop businesses that are not only multigenerational, but are run by families that have lived, worked and grown up in the local communities that they serve. Additionally, bail agents are licensed professional insurance agents that are heavily regulated by each states’ individual Department of Insurance or similar agency. Bail agents are not allowed to have criminal records.
#4 Bail agents let bad guys out of jail
Bail agents are not responsible for determining who gets out of jail and who doesn’t. That decision is made by a judge. If a judge, based on the information available to him and the details of the case, determines that a defendant is not a flight risk and not a danger to the community, he or she will set a bail amount. The amount of the bail is a value determined by the judge based on what will appropriately incentivize a defendant to show up for court. Once the bail is set, the family of the defendant will contact a bail agent to arrange the release of the individual. The bail agent will do their own research and analysis — called “underwriting” — to determine if they are willing to take the risk of releasing the defendant. Just as a car insurance agent determines the risk of insuring your car, a bail agent determines the risk of bailing out a person who has been arrested.
#3 Making people pay for a bail bond is unfair and not effective
There have been countless studies over the years conducted by a wide range of researchers. From government studies by the Department of Justice, to university/educational studies to private research studies, each and every time in every study (seriously, I am not exaggerating — every study says the same thing), it was determined that the most effective way to ensure a defendant’s appearance in court, was to release them on a financially secured bail bond. The most ineffective method? Releasing them on their own promise to appear. Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when a defendant is truly indigent and/or has special needs. Those individuals should not be lumped together with other defendants and the requirement for financially secured release and should have access to public sector release resources.
#2 Being a bail agent is dangerous
What you see on television and in the movies is not the reality of the bail business. The majority of the work that a bail agent does is in an office in front of a computer and on a cell phone. It’s really just like the day-to-day kind work of any other insurance agent. Very rarely do bail agents need to go after and chase defendants. In the few cases where defendants fail to appear for court, most of the time, they just simply forgot or overslept. Fugitive recovery agents (annoyingly referred to as “bounty hunters” all too often by media looking to sensationalize stories) are hired in very rare cases to assist in finding and capturing a defendant who has decided to run. And most fugitive recovery agents are good at what they do because they are not in the spotlight or on television.
#1 Bail agents are big burly guys running through the streets with guns catching bad guys
Bail agents are not the guys you imagine. In fact, more than 50% of licensed bail agents in the U.S. are actually women. Yep, I said women! There are strong caring and organizational components that come with being a bail agent, along with having the capacity for compassion. Being a bail agent is all about working with families and helping them get through a tough situation. It is not about chasing down bad guys. Bail agents are really just like traditional insurance agents. Many of them would describe their daily activities as they would describe the job of an standard insurance underwriter — boring and mundane. If someone were to create a reality television show about an insurance agent underwriting an insurance policy it would put everybody to sleep. That’s why what you see on television and the movies is focused on the chase. It is much more sexy and exciting than the real thing.
So the next time you see something in the movies or on television labeled as “reality” something, don’t jump to the conclusion that it’s truthful. Because sometimes true “reality” doesn’t deliver the ratings needed to make it big in entertainment.