Tax Officials Call Money Bail a ‘Bad Deal’


A new report out of San Francisco underscores—once again—how money bail fails the jurisdictions that use it and the people forced to pay for their liberty.

Do the Math: Money Bail Doesn’t Add Up for San Francisco, issued by the Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector of the City & County, details how the city’s current practices create a two-tiered system—one for those with money and another for those without—that siphons wealth away from the poorest communities and into the pockets of predatory, poorly regulated corporate surety companies.

In addition to describing money bail practices as a “bad fiscal deal for San Francisco taxpayers,” the report focuses closely on the for-profit bail bonding industry. According to the report:

  • 99% of people who post bond in San Francisco do so through a for-profit bail bonding company;
  • Bail bondsmen collect $10-$15 million in nonrefundable fees from San Francisco’s poorest communities and communities of color every year;

And perhaps worst of all:

  • Bail bonding companies are poorly regulated, operate with questionable practices, fail to demonstrate positive outcomes, and have seen a 300% increase in complaints in the last five years.

These findings are similar to The High Cost of Bail, a 2016 publication by the Maryland Office of the Public Defender that reported how Maryland communities paid more than $256 million in nonrefundable bail bond premiums from 2011 to 2015, including more than $75 million paid in cases that were resolved without any finding of wrongdoing.

The report also complements PJI’s 2017 report, Pretrial Justice: How Much Does It Cost? which calculated the daily national price tag of pretrial detention as at least $38 million. Not only is this expense a burden on local systems and taxpayers, but there are proven, effective ways to reduce pretrial expenses and produce more favorable justice outcomes, described in detail in the report.

There is a conversation happening at the national, state, and local levels about how to create pretrial justice systems that are fairer and more effective. Do the Math—which also offers recommendations on how to improve San Francisco’s pretrial system—is a useful addition to this dialogue.

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