Wednesday, May 22, 2013

ALEC wants Wisconsin lawmakers to bail out private bondsmen

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has a way of trying to "solve" problems where none exist. Right now in Wisconsin, the group is dipping its fetid toe into the issue of bail bonding. It's supporting an effort to have the state move away from its publicly-run system to one that relies on private bail bondsmen.

Why does ALEC care, you may ask? Surely it has nothing to do with its 20-year relationship with the private bail bond industry, right? Wrong. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) is carrying ALEC's water on the issue after a similar effort in the state failed two years ago. The end goal is more dollars for private bail bondsmen.

The big losers with this legislation are everyone else.  First, there are the impoverished low-level offenders who will not be able to afford even minimal bail amounts. Under the current system, they pay 10 percent of the bail amount to be let free before their court date, but receive that money back if they show up. Under a private system, however, they will not be reimbursed. So while they might be able to borrow their bail amount from someone for a short period of time, they may not be able to get someone to permanently cover those costs.

There is also the issue of the taxpayer. More jail time means more dollars needed to cover the housing and food costs of those behind bars. And it may even result in needing to have more cells built to house them. Bruce Murphy of Urban Milwaukee fills us in:
The return of commercial bail bonds, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm has stated, “will primarily benefit out-of-state interests, the large bail-bond corporations” motivated “purely by financial interests” at the expense of public safety.
Chisholm said that bail bond agents often set up payment plans with high interest rates that “resemble the predatory practices of the cash loan industry” and trap low-income individuals into a cycle of debt.
If the bill passes it will increase the taxpayers costs for imprisonment, says Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee), a former judge who championed the reform bill of 1979. “Wisconsin saw a 5-6 percent decrease in its jail population” after the private bail-bond system was banned in 1979, he told the media, “and will likely see a 5-6 percent increase if the practice comes back.”
But ALEC's interest in the private bail bond industry does not stop there. They've authored model legislation on expanding the list of offenses for which someone arrested must pay a bail bondsmen, eliminating pre-trial release agencies so states are more dependent on private bail bondsmen, and by allowing debts owed to state by bail bond companies to expire. That's a pretty cozy bed ALEC is in with those folks! ALEC is also a long-time supporter of prison privatization and has a close relationship with those corporate interests as well.

So let's tally it up for the people of Wisconsin. More costs? Less safety? More poor people behind bars in a system that increasingly resembles archaic debtors' prisons? Sounds like a winner! Wisconsin, you are better than this. Let your state lawmakers know they should say no to ALEC and the private bail bond industry.