Defending Bail: A Quest for Truth

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Over the past several weeks, I have been on an important quest across the country. Okay, it’s not really a quest, but it sounds a whole lot better than simply saying I have been travelling around a lot. From PBAI to CBAA to OBAA to PBT, this month-long adventure has taken me through 4 different states, 12 different cities and countless Uber rides. I have spent hours talking with and listening to various criminal justice stakeholders discussing the state of our criminal justice system. I have had discussions with district attorneys, victim advocates, law enforcement professionals and even judges. I have heard and debated different perspectives on how best to improve our system to be more fair and equitable. I have also talked with bail agents about what is really going on in their local communities and how these soft on crime bail reform policies have made communities less safe and criminals more dangerous.

While each person that I spoke with brought a unique perspective to the discussion, each one ultimately came together with the same conclusion…usually one of confusion and serious disappointment. In other words, everyone I spoke with thought that these reforms were bad public policy and they couldn’t understand why they were being promoted to the public.

Overwhelmingly (and unfortunately so) the majority of my conversations have been focused more on the negative than the positive. And by negative I am talking about the negative consequences and impacts that these reforms are having in communities all over the country. It really is amazing to watch how quickly crime increases when you decriminalize and reduce the punishment for breaking the law (actually it isn’t all that surprising). It is even more amazing to watch the supporters of these failed policies try so hard to explain that their programs are actually working when they very obviously aren’t.

One of the most interesting aspects of my travels has been that whomever I am talking with, whether it was someone from law enforcement or a judge or even a bail agent, the conversation always touched on in some way “how do we protect the rights of crime victims” and hold criminals accountable.

What makes this not just interesting but rather astonishing is that when you talk with anyone who supports bail reform, rarely if ever do you hear them mention a crime victim. They talk about fairness, they talk about the poor, they talk about social justice, but for some reason…they never talk about crime victims. Why is that? Who knows…maybe it is because they truly don’t understand how victimization occurs? Maybe it is because they believe people only commit crimes because society has failed them and hence they are the real victims. Whatever the reason, it makes absolutely no sense to me and most of the people I have spoken with.

I have said this a thousand times and will probably say it a thousand more, but the bail industry is the most misunderstood profession in existence. Most people have no clue how it works and the important role that it plays in the criminal justice system. To say that this lack of understanding is an Achilles heel for us is an understatement. Opponents of the bail industry have capitalized on this lack of understanding and spread false and misleading information to demonize and vilify an entire profession.

In fact, according to these opponents, I don’t think there is a single social ill that the bail industry isn’t responsible for. Everything from homelessness to unemployment to drug addiction and even death…the bail industry is the root to all evil in the world. I am not sure how they can honestly make these types of broad based accusations, but that is the song they are singing, and unfortunately people are listening to them and starting to sing along.

It is time for our industry to redefine our message and commit ourselves to educating stakeholders in our communities in the right way…with the truth. The bail industry has never been about the guilt or innocence of the defendant/accused, but rather it has always been about justice for the victim. The bail industry doesn’t release defendants from jail, but rather ensures that they show up for court (two very different concepts). The bail industry doesn’t create victims, but rather supports and helps victims have their day in court. The bail industry isn’t a broken link in the criminal justice system, but rather it is in my opinion the strongest link that keeps the wheels of justice turning fairly and responsibly for everyone.

So as I set off for another leg of my quest, I will keep talking and keep learning about this great industry and profession. I will also keep educating anyone and everyone about the important and essential role that bail plays in keeping communities safe by holding those accused of crimes accountable. I hope agents all over the country will join me in this quest. This isn’t a race or a contest with one person getting the credit. It is fight for survival in which each and every one of us must participate. Good luck and safe journeys.

Eric Granof is the Vice President of Corporate Communications for AIA Surety.