Non-profit groups in Maryland call for legislative action following report of special interest influence on pretrial justice system

A new report by Common Cause Maryland shows the for-profit bail bond industry is using its money and influence in Annapolis to protect a failed money bail system that discriminates against poor and low income people, undermines public safety, and squanders taxpayer dollars. The study—Play to Pay?—ranks Maryland third, after California and Florida, in the amount of money bondsman give to state legislators.   

Three separate statewide judicial and legislative studies and a 2014 Governor’s Commission on Pretrial Justice have called for effectively eliminating the role of money bail in Maryland’s pretrial justice system. The statewide studies and 2014 Governor’s Commission concluded that Maryland’s pretrial system is unfair, ineffective, wastes taxpayer dollars, and is in need of serious reform. Through its reliance on money bail, the system is incapable of doing the job we expect it to—promoting justice and improving public safety within Maryland. Those with money, regardless of their danger to the community or victims, can buy their way out of jail. Meanwhile, people with fewer resources and, disproportionately, people of color remain in jail because they cannot afford to post bail—even if they are not a risk to public safety and are likely to appear for their next court date.

Despite these findings and recommendations, efforts to reform the system have failed, with notable opposition from the bail bond industry – private business interests that profit from the current bail centered system. Between 2011 and 2015 alone, bail bondsmen collected more than $256 million from people who were forced to buy their way out of jail, putting a tremendous and unfair financial burden on people who have been accused but not convicted and who are often low-income. But each time reforms to the system were proposed, the measure died in committee and never made it to a full vote of the legislature.

The Common Cause Maryland report presents a clear picture of how the for-profit bail bond industry seeks to influence key decision makers in Annapolis. Since 2011, bail bondsmen have spent more than $200,000 in Maryland on political activities. In the last reporting period alone, they made more than $84,000 in donations to lawmakers. Maryland voters should be alarmed that their relatively small state ranks third, behind only California and Florida, in campaign donations from money bail interests.

Maryland has every reason to shift to a proven, evidence-based pretrial system that keeps communities safe and saves taxpayer dollars. But Pay to Play? reveals that donations from the for profit bail bond industry sustain a failed status quo, drive up taxpayer costs and cause more people to be unnecessarily and unfairly detained while their cases are resolved.  

The organizations listed below are working to promote common sense pretrial reform that will move Maryland toward a system that is based on research and best practices. We will continue to work together in order to urge passage of legislation to create a fair and effective system for all Marylanders.  

Justice Policy Institute

Out for Justice

Pretrial Justice Institute

Doug Colbert, Professor of Law, Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law

For more information on the for-profit bail bond industry and the need for reform in Maryland, as well as to speak to representatives of the organizations listed below, please contact JPI Executive Director Marc Schindler at (202.215.7070) or JPI Digital Media Associate Olivia Martinez (714.600.4463).