Truth, lies and local politics
I have never been a political person. To be honest, I’ve never had the desire or the temperament to be one, but unfortunately, I fear I have become one and it is not pleasant. As the Vice President of Corporate Communications for the nation’s largest family of bail bond insurance companies, I’ve been thrown into the fire of politics in a way I could have never have imagined.
Like most people growing up, I didn’t really think much about elections or politicians. I listened to my parents complain about them but it didn’t really seem to affect me. Don’t get me wrong, I had my beliefs and thoughts, but they never really ever went beyond internal discussions in my own head. And I was okay with that.
Fast forward to today. I work in an industry that has been put in the cross-hairs of one of the most powerful political firestorms that I have ever witnessed — the debate on criminal justice reform, or more specifically, bail reform. Anyone who reads or pays attention to the news can easily see one or two articles a day written about how our criminal justice system needs to change. Headlines like “People languishing away in jail because they are poor” or “People being locked up for nonviolent drug crimes” are a weekly if not daily occurrence in news outlets around the country. These constant headlines have led to a growing interest by many political leaders across the country. If people are concerned about criminal justice, then politicians will show more interest, especially if they want to be seen as helping their constituents. Now please don’t get me wrong or jump to any conclusions, my criticism in this article (and yes I will eventually be getting to a big one) is not about politicians and what they do (whether you think that’s good or bad), it’s with the process of how political discussions take place.
Call me Pollyanna or just call me naive, but up until 6 years ago, I was a happy go lucky independent thinker who believed that things happened in this world because they were the right things and that the people in charge were making decisions based on what was best for the people in their community. I can honestly say now that, for the most part, based on my experiences, this is absolutely not true. The political process is not something driven by facts or truths. It’s driven by power, influence and sometimes personal vindictiveness, regardless of the impact it has on each and every one of us. Once again, this isn’t a political rant, it’s me sharing real life experiences that evolved me (or shall I say devolved me) into a political person.
Here is an example:
One can easily say the bail bond industry doesn’t have the best image in the world. Hollywood and the media have portrayed bail bondsmen as evil, greedy thugs that you want to avoid at all costs. These images and perceptions couldn’t be farther from the truth. Bail agents play an essential role in the criminal justice system. Independent research study after research study have shown that when it comes to releasing defendants from jail before their trial, the most effective way to ensure they show up for court is through a financially secured bail bond. Seriously, this isn’t just a guy from the bail industry telling you this. These are real government funded studies and academic researchers making these claims. Even with all the proof of bail’s effectiveness, ultimately it’s the negative image that drives the perception and the industry becomes an easy target for people to attack. And attack is what people are doing.
This past week, I watched a criminal justice committee hearing in Connecticut. Political leaders are currently contemplating changes to their pretrial release system. During this hearing, a gentleman who was the chief driver behind the proposed changes (which pretty much called for the abolition of financially secured release in Connecticut) testified as to why the state needed to make these changes. What came out of his mouth was unbelievable — and I am not talking about its truthful qualities.
In front of a panel of state legislators, this individual who holds a prominent position under the governor not only misrepresented facts, but flat out lied to the committee. I’m not talking about little white lies or stretching the truth a bit. I am talking about blatant lies about things that did not happen. For example, in one instance, this person said that commercial bail had just been deemed to be unconstitutional in New Mexico. That is not true. In fact, the constitutionality of bail has never even been considered in New Mexico. Additionally, this person claimed that other states were looking at the exact same reforms as they were in Connecticut. This statement was also just as false. All evidence shows that states are not considering any reforms similar to those proposed in Connecticut. In fact, many states have moved away from the exact programs proposed in Connecticut because they’ve failed so miserably in the past. It’s almost shocking that in the face of all the proof, Connecticut leaders would still consider damaging their criminal justice system based on this misinformation.
This example is just one of many I have witnessed in the last several years. And please, once again, don’t get me wrong. I’m not upset because someone has a different point of view than I do on a topic. I am upset because I’m watching people unwilling to have a truthful debate on a topic instead choose to spread lies and misinformation because it’s the best way for them to advance their cause. This is not how the political process should work. If we are to make real impactful and effective change, we need to deal with the truth. If we want to make things better, we need to believe in facts, not myths. Unfortunately, my confidence in the process is all but shattered. When you find yourself looking down the barrel of a different lie every day as you try to protect your industry and your livelihood because of the political desires of an individual willing to achieve their goal at any expense, it doesn’t give you a whole lot of confidence in the system.
As you can probably tell by this point, I’m pretty depressed about this situation and it would be easy to just roll over and admit defeat. But when things are this important, even though it’s bad, it’s more important than ever to continue to fight. While some might have a problem with the truth, as it doesn’t always serve their agenda, I don’t and I’m pretty sure others won’t as well. The truth is that important and it’s time to let people know what that is, as well as what it isn’t. Because anything this important, and I am talking about the integrity of our criminal justice system, should always be worth fighting for and always be worth the truth.