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The U.S. bail bonds system raises serious consumer protection concerns

> Posted by Allyse McGrath, Specialist, CFI

In a criminal justice system that accepts cash in exchange for temporary freedom, a predatory financial service has taken root and become yet another barrier. In the United States, bail bondsman and global insurance companies are netting between $1.4 billion and $2.4 billion annually from vulnerable people who are unable to pay the bail they need to remain out of custody before they are tried. This is not a new problem. It’s been going on since the early days of the modern U.S. criminal justice system.

Those accused of crimes are given an option to stay in jail or put up an amount of money (bail) for their release prior to trial. (It is important to note that people at this stage are presumed innocent under law.) The bail acts as a commitment device for people to show up to their court hearing. The bail amount is returned if the defendant shows up. If they do not, the court keeps it. Bail amounts vary greatly based on the severity of the crime in question as well as the potential flight risk of the accused party. The average bail amount for a felony arrest is about $10,000, roughly two months’ worth of the median annual income in the United States. In a study of nearly 30,000 cases where bail was set in New York City, only 37 percent of defendants could afford to pay bail.

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The government of China is launching a mandatory credit scoring system in 2020 and since the publishing of a piece on the system by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last week, it’s become a topic of passionate discussion. It remains to be seen how the system will work, but in reading a released State Council planning document, it seems likely that credit scores will be determined by more than just financial behaviors. While the creation of a country-wide credit reporting system potentially presents big benefits to lenders and borrowers, it’s essential that such a system doesn’t unfairly discriminate or breach citizens’ privacy. Below are the opening excerpts from the ACLU post and from a Tech in Asia post, which weighs in on the ACLU’s points and offers additional food for thought.

“China’s Nightmarish Citizen Scores Are a Warning For Americans”

> By Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project

China is launching a comprehensive “credit score” system, and the more I learn about it, the more nightmarish it seems. China appears to be leveraging all the tools of the information age—electronic purchasing data, social networks, algorithmic sorting—to construct the ultimate tool of social control. It is, as one commentator put it, “authoritarianism, gamified.” Read this piece for the full flavor—it will make your head spin. If that and the little other reporting I’ve seen is accurate, the basics are this:
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The views and opinions expressed on this blog, except where otherwise noted, are those of the authors and guest bloggers and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Financial Inclusion or its affiliates.