While proponents of public sector pretrial release are making their way across the country blaming the ills of the criminal justice system on the commercial bail industry, there is one thing that they never seem to want to discuss…and that is the “REAL” cost of reform. Why? Because if you begin to add up the cost of replacing the private sector commercial bail industry, which costs counties and states $0 to operate, with more public sector employees and bureaucracy, you quickly begin to see costs spiral out of control and a whole new definition of public sector “Money Bail” comes into view. Just this past weekend a story was published on the dailyrecord.com website about the significant cost of bail reform in New Jersey. Unfortunately, for taxpayers cost isn’t something that was considered. Based on estimates presented during testimony, it was determined that the cost of a pretrial program in New Jersey could top $200 Million. …something no one seemed to think about during the state’s bail reform debate despite, the continuous suggestions and objections of the commercial bail industry.
An important fact about public sector pretrial service agencies that the Pretrial Justice Institute, The VERA Institute and the Justice Policy Institute don’t want to share is that providing these services is NOT FREE. In actuality, they are extremely expensive and require substantially large outlays of valuable tax-dollars to fund. For example, Washington D.C.’s pretrial program requires a whopping $58 Million to manage only 5,000 defendants. Using that formula of $11,600 per defendant ($58 Million/5000) and calculating the cost of a placing similar pretrial program in a typical metropolitan city like Dallas County Texas which averages over 22,000 pretrial releases a year, you get a total cost of over $255 Million. Now if that is not the definition of Money Bail, I don’t know what is.
Additionally, this discussion has just been about cost. Once you throw effectiveness into the picture, things look even worse for the public sector pretrial programs. The costs go even higher. For example, in Dallas County, Texas, a study by the University of Texas at Dallas, determined that there is a cost to the county of $1775 every time a defendant fails to appear in court. As compared to private sector commercial bail and based on a FTA cost of $1775 per defendant and a dismal appearance rate of only 63%, pretrial services cost Dallas County an additional $11,000,000 in effectiveness (or lack of effectiveness) costs.
Lastly, there is also a social cost to pretrial release. This is the cost to the victim and a community when the defendant who was supposed to appear for trial doesn’t. And instead of facing justice, is out committing additional crimes. While this number is more difficult to calculate and put an actual dollar amount to, it has been determined by some studies to be as high as $25,000 per defendant.
This social cost is probably the most impactful negative costs of ineffective public sector pretrial services.
Costs of Pretrial Release
So, if you are an average metropolitan county in the US that is looking to operate the most cost efficient and effective pretrial release program possible, which option would you choose?
Option 1 – Public sector pretrial services
Operational Costs $255,000,000*
Effectiveness Costs $11,000,000**
Social Costs Substantial (high rates of recidivism)
*Based on DC pretrial costs of $11,600/defendant multiplied by the number of releases in an average metropolitan county like Dallas County, Texas
** Based on Dallas County Study, Dr. Morris, 2012, the cost of FTA’s between pretrial services and commercial bail.
Option 2 – Private sector commercial bail
Operational Costs $0
Effectiveness Costs $0
Social Costs Minimal (low rates of recidivism)
The comparison is not even close. Private sector commercial bail is not only more effective in guaranteeing the appearance of a defendant in court, but it does so at zero cost to taxpayers. Additionally, the social cost that bail has on the community at large is much lower. When people show up for court, they are not out in the community committing additional crimes. Lastly, through premium taxes and forfeiture payments, the commercial bail industry actually generates millions of dollars in positive revenue for states and counties…something taxpayer funded public sector pretrial programs can never do.
So the next time you hear someone in the public sector talk about the ineffectiveness of “money bail,” it’s time to clarify to key stakeholders that it is the public sector that is the truly the most expensive and ineffective form of money bail around.