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Comptroller calls for commercial bail bonds to be banned in NYC

Commercial bail bonds are a profit-making business already banned in four states. Banning them here would propel bail reform, Comptroller Stringer says.
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Commercial bail bonds post bail for a defendant who can't in exchange for a fee, a for-profit practice that Comptroller Stringer says should be banned in New York City. Photo: iStock

Crime in New York City has been dropping, yet the use of commercial bail bonds — a for-profit system in which a bondsman posts bail for someone accused of a crime in exchange for a fee — has grown 12 percent in the past two years.

In the last year alone, commercial bondsmen made between $16 million and $27 million off of New York City defendants and their families through nonrefundable fees, according to a report by Comptroller Scott M. Stringer’s office.

Stringer on Tuesday released this report and called for the banning of commercial bail bonds in New York City.

Commercial bail bonds are illegal in four states — Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon and Wisconsin— and "almost universally reject[ed] and condemn[ed] in other countries outside of the United States," the New York Times previously reported.

If someone accused of a crime can’t post bail, they are incarcerated — a practice that disproportionately affects New York’s communities of color. More than 80 percent of those jailed because they can’t pay bail are black or Hispanic, the report found.

Commercial bail bonds pay that bail for defendants for a fee, and now account for more than half of all bail postings in the city. This is the most costly form of bail pay for taxpayers and defendants, according to Stringer’s report.

Detaining people ahead of a trial who can't pay their bond is also costly to the city, to the tune of about $100 million annually, the report found. 

Banning bail bonds would reduce short-term stays at Rikers Island and push forward bail reform “locally and nationally” according to Stringer’s office.

“No one should be incarcerated simply because they lack the ability to pay bail, but that’s exactly what’s happening to New Yorkers, particularly in communities of color,” Stringer said in a statement. “The private operators who profit off this backwards system should be put out of business – that’s how we begin to reverse decades of short-sighted criminal justice policies.”