Editorial | Explore bail bond business
Hopefully, Delroy Chuck's announcement that he is thinking about regularising the bail bond business in Jamaica is a matter of serious policy consideration, rather than an off-the-cuff answer to a reporter's question.
A properly regulated system would bring a greater level of fairness to the judicial process for large numbers of mainly poor, young men charged for minor crimes, who, because of their inability to post bail, remain in jail for long stretches before their trials.
As in many other jurisdictions, people arrested for crimes in Jamaica are often detained until their hearings, but may be released on bail if they, or persons on their behalf, are able to post a bond, cash, or other asset to the value of a dollar amount set by a judge.
The problem for many people - there is no official figure of the number - is that neither they nor their families can afford the amount. Usually, they stay in jail until their trials or until someone musters the money.
BIG BUSINESS IN AMERICA
In America, they have made bail bonding into big business. Professionals, usually with cover from insurance companies, banks or other financial entities, enter agreements with courts to guarantee bail bonds, thereby allowing them to stand bail for accused persons who, in turn, are charged a percentage of the face value of the bond amount for the service. The important matter for the bail bond company is that accused persons show up in court whenever required, lest they forfeit their surety.
No such business formally exists in Jamaica. Usually, it is a friend and family who post bail, most by surrendering the title to property to the courts and, in some instances, putting cash into escrow accounts.
However, there is an informal bail bond business. So-called 'bailer men' post bonds and, like in the handful of jurisdictions where there are formal arrangements, collect a fee for this service. These arrangements came under scrutiny recently when one of these gents was caught allegedly attempting to use property already pledged for a previous bond to bail a second person. Further, information on the documents had been falsified.
This fraud, if proved true, doesn't mean that the process is inherently bad. Rather, there is need for oversight and regulation. Which is where Mr Chuck's proposed legislative initiative, if it happens, would be sensible.
We appreciate the criticism often made of America's bail bond system that it discriminates against the poor. Most of those analyses, when scrutinised closely, highlight a societal bias in the treatment of rich and poor people that finds its way into the judicial system. Some advocates argue for greater use of cashless/no-money bail arrangements, which, no doubt, would also resonate in Jamaica's social context.
However, a formal bail bond system would make sense. If an accused is asked to pay, say, 10 per cent, or J$10,000 of a J$100,000 surety, for the services of a bail-bond company, there is a greater likelihood that that amount would be found.
Two things would happen. Fewer people charged with misdemeanours would be spending so much time in lock-ups, causing less crowding and offering more space for people who should really be in jail. In other words, jails could become more humane environments.
Second, beyond the social ones, there are economic costs for keeping people in lock-ups. We'd expect those costs, in aggregate, to decline with fewer people in jail.