Indiana bill could put bondsmen back in business

A bill before the Indiana General Assembly promises to put bail bondsmen back in business in St. Joseph County (and in other places where their services are seldom, if ever, used).

34 Indiana counties currently do not allow surety bonds—like those provided by bondsmen.

Supporters of SB 395 say it’s a matter of public safety. “It really should be in your best interest to someone who is living in the community to know that when someone is charged with a crime and they’re released from jail pending trial that you would want to know that they, someone is guaranteeing that they appear back to court,” said Mike Whitlock with American Surety Company in Indianapolis.

In the past two months alone, 12 people who failed to appear in court in St. Joseph County have been added to the ‘wanted’ list on the website of Michiana Crime Stoppers.

Their criminal charges range from child molestation to residential entry and theft.

“So, a bail agent will spend a considerable amount of money chasing the defendant throughout the United States and sometimes internationally to return a defendant to court in order to mitigate their loss on that bond,” said Whitlock. “The current system in Indiana, in my opinion is not working. It’s really favorable to the courts in terms of simply just generating revenue. They’ve re-purposed bail away from guaranteeing the appearance of the defendant in court to really add cash to their coffers.”

St. Joseph County government routinely collects and holds bail money so that it can be used to pay fees and court costs when a case is closed.

“Certainly sometimes bonds are used to pay fees, whether it’s attorney’s fees, whether it’s substance abuse fees, and a range of other fees, but frankly, oftentimes that’s the only way to recoup those costs from defendants,” said Ind. Sen. John Broden, (D) South Bend. “And once they’ve pleaded guilty and they’ve acknowledged that they’ve committed the crime, I think that’s appropriate.”

What Broden says is not appropriate, is a bill that gives bondsmen what he see as a competitive advantage.

“This is a classic example of when the General Assembly essentially seeks to pick winners and losers in the marketplace, and there’s a reason why bail bondsmen are sort of being phased out, they are an unnecessary middleman that defendants don’t need, the courts don’t need, and it’s just an unnecessary waste,” said Sen. Broden.

The bill passed the Indiana State Senate this week by a vote of 34 to 14.

The measure would raise the price of court collected cash payments from ten percent of the total amount of a bond, to 15 percent.

“Some of these county governments have been doing for some time now is reducing their cash deposit requirement to an amount equal to what the bondsman charges in order to force the bondsman out of business,” said Whitlock.

Bondsmen typically charge 10 percent of a bond amount although that money is essentially a fee and never returned to a criminal defendant.

When government collects cash bond payments, the unused portion of the money is returned to criminal defendants.