Regarding “How New Jersey Made a Bail Breakthrough,” in the November issue, while the end of cash bail for minor offenses is good (New York state has also adopted bail reform), it continues to be plagued by a simple and fixable problem: the profit motive. The U.S. and the Philippines are the only developed countries that permit bail bonding to be a profit-making enterprise. U.S. courts (one of which I served as court clerk in 2012–13) are capable of handling pretrial bonds just as courts around the world do now. Or they could be turned over to a not-for-profit system funded by forfeitures.
Unless the profit is removed from the system, all efforts at reform will always be muddied by businesses whose primary motivation may not be justice, but rather continuing to service larger and larger incarcerated populations. Cash bail is being replaced by ankle monitoring, another expensive and profitable proposition. Flight risk and threat to commit violence should be the primary factors for the level of bail that is set by a judge, and too often the current system of punitive arrest has failed families and communities — especially those of color — by impoverishing those arrested but not convicted.
Editor’s note: The letter writer is a county legislator in Westchester County, N.Y.