Figure 1. displays the percentage of men who are bail bond agents vs women. It may come as a surprise that most bail bond agents are women.
Many Women are making executive decisions within the most venerable property and casualty insurance bail surety corporations now operating in the United States. Angie Mayfield, for example, owns All Star Bail Bonds and she runs four offices in Clark County. In addition to running a business, she is also a mother. Some women feel that they do not receive the recognition that they deserve in the industry. Many of the women who are bail bond agents with their own businesses discuss using their natural abilities as empathizers who are able to walk with people through some of the most difficult times of their lives. These women are determined to remain nurturing in many cases, and they care about their clients and handle cases with respect. Many women bail bond agents have been trying to break the stereotype that the industry is run by greedy men for years. In reality, most bail bond agents in the United States, and specifically in California, are women. A strikingly little known fact is that women hold some of the most powerful and prestigious positions in the bail bond industry and on local, state and National levels, with many holding the title of CEO.
Women are able to talk a man down, in many cases, beyond their egos. Michelle Esquenazi, a bond bail agent and CEO in New York City, says she will not discuss stocks with a successful man, but rather something more human. She might ask, for example, how his children are doing. The women in this industry speak to the importance of remaining humble and building relationships with people. By understanding people and how they think, it is easier to get them to show up to court and get their lives on the right track.
Here’s How Bail Works
In most jurisdictions across the country today, most people who are arrested and charged with crimes must put down a refundable deposit to ensure they’ll show up for their court date instead of skipping town.
This means either putting up their own cash, or paying a fee to a commercial bond company that posts bail on their behalf. This is where bail bond agents come into play. They help people to provide funds to be released from being held in jail. They also walk friends and family through the bail process when their loved ones need help.
Bail Bond Agents in California
Recently, there has been a big push in California to eliminate cash bail.
SB 10 was designed to make California the first state to end the use of cash bail for all detained suspects awaiting trials. The legislation would have replaced the state's cash bail system with risk assessments to determine whether a detained suspect should be granted pretrial release and under what conditions.
The risk assessments would have categorized suspects as low risk, medium risk, or high risk. Suspects deemed as having a low risk of failing to appear in court and a low risk to public safety would be released from jail, while those deemed a high risk would remain in jail, with a chance to argue for their release before a judge.
The new law, to end the use of cash bail in California’s criminal Justice system, has exposed the deep problems within the criminal justice system. Many social justice advocates who were once against bail have realized that it is actually a much more fair practice. Due to the United State’s long history of racism in criminal justice, it is easy to imagine that if left up to a single judge, many people could be discriminated against based on age, race, sex, etc.
Critics fear the new law will institutionalize racial bias, as judges will retain the ultimate authority to decide whether to detain someone before their trial. The ACLU, NAACP, and Human Rights Watch all abandoned support for a movement they initially hailed as a social justice breakthrough. They said it also did not include enough oversight over risk assessment tools, technological analyses that rely on computer algorithms to predict a person’s likelihood to break the law again, which studies have found can exhibit bias against communities of color.
California's three ACLU affiliates opposed SB 10, issuing a joint statement that said: "SB 10 is not the model for pretrial justice and racial equity that California should strive for." The statement called for new legislation to "address racial bias in risk assessment tools.”
Figure 3. shows the wage gap by education for bond bail agents. Those with a masters degree earn significantly more.
Who is Really Impacted
In order to have a greater understanding of what would happen if cash bail was completely eliminated, it is also important to take a closer look at who these bail bond agents actually are. In many cases, they are not a white male stereotype, but rather women. Many are people of color and some have no more than a high school degree.
Figure 4. shows the highest degree levels bail bond agents have. Many only have a high school diploma.
The bail bond industry tends to attract people who didn’t get the education or have the family resources necessary to go into more traditional forms of banking and lending.
The people who work as bail agents are also characterized as people who really care about others’ freedom and many of them can relate to a loved one spending time in jail. It can be a painful experience and these agents are people who want to benefit society. Jeff Stanley, who owns Bad Boys Bail Bonds, which has offices in Los Angeles and across the state, said bail agents perform a range of services, including spending time counseling defendants’ families.
“We know all the aspects of their lives,” he said. “Bail bond agents are in the trenches with them.”
For many, the business is personal. Some minority bail company owners said they set up their businesses because they felt the needs of black and Latino defendants were not being served.
Figure 5. breaks down the race of bail bond agents who are women. The majority of women identified as Hispanic or Latina women.
Figure 6. shows the percent of women bail bond agents over time. Since 2011, women bail bond agents have dominated the industry.
Ethics in the Bail Bond Industry
Bail bond agents for the most part have an intuitive understanding of the gendered ethics of care in our society, which socializes us all to feel like women should bear the primary responsibilities of care, whether that be caring for children, caring for the home, or caring for the jailed defendant.
Often, it is a mother, girlfriend, wife, or other woman figure who deals with the bond agent while the arrestee is usually a man.
Typically, women are quite responsive and feel it is their responsibility to bail out the defendant. Often, women feel the strongest obligation to care for the defendant through the posting of bail, and also who would be the one to make sure the defendant actually attends court and protect the investment of the company. Many of these women who are looking out for the defendant feel immediately comforted to be met with a woman bond bail agent.
Many agents discuss moving from harsh punitive and extractive bail to one much more based on care, which ties into restorative justice and so forth. What would a care-based model look like that’s also about meeting the official purposes of bail to begin with, which is justice and that people aren’t hurt, right? What does it mean to bring an ethics of care that helps generate that?
These are the questions that current bail bond agents deal with. For example, Esquenazi has a policy of hiring former clients whenever possible. Bail bonding, at least as Esquenazi conceives it, is also a privatized re-entry industry. It’s one of the few careers where a job applicant’s brushes with the law can prove an asset. She is a role model in the industry, showing how care for a community can better people and bring the, together.
Even critics of the industry recognize that bail agents are deeply rooted in the communities they serve. “Marginalized communities often see bail agents as their friends, as people who bring them justice,” said the Vera Institute’s Wool.
Equality in the Criminal Justice System
Bail bond companies are doing more than reuniting families and allowing the poor to have the same experience as wealthier people. The bail bond service gives poor defendants the same benefit as rich ones: freedom during trial. Additionally, the bail bond industry saves taxpayer money that would otherwise go toward jailing costs.
Another benefit of bond bail agencies is that they send bounty hunters after fugitives. By sending bounty hunters after fugitives, the industry helps overburdened police departments ease their workload. They also provide ways to navigate legal uncertainties and they often support their communities as well.
Arrests due to Homelessness
In situations where the defendant was arrested due to addiction or homelessness, many bail bond agents will help to find treatment programs and shelters once the inmate is released. Bond agents do not receive compensation for this service. Drug addiction and homelessness can often lead to arrest, putting more stress on people who are already experiencing difficult circumstances.
Bail bond companies often have extensive networks of resources, including addiction treatment programs and homeless shelters, so vulnerable people can find some assistance and stability after being released. Additionally, these vital services can help defendants overcome the conditions that led to their arrest. In California, homelessness and arrests of homeless people are both serious dilemmas.
Figure 7. shows the high rate of homelessness among arrestees.
Ensuring Safety in Communities
Bail bonds allow people facing charges to wait out their trials at home, as long as they appear in court and meet certain conditions, such as continuing to work and avoiding risky activities. The agents also check in with individuals to ensure they attend their court appointments and maintain their behavior between appearances.
If a defendant fails to fulfill their obligations, they may be returned to jail. This system keeps potentially dangerous individuals off the streets, making communities safer.
Helping People in Communities with Language Barriers
Navigating the complexities of the legal system is overwhelming enough without a language barrier. Unfortunately, court orders are often issued in English, which can cause problems for immigrants who are still learning the language.
Bail bond agencies in diverse communities often offer services in multiple languages to better guide their clients through the legal process. In addition to explaining legal documents, bilingual agents also ensure that defendants know what’s expected of them and what steps they should take next.
https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/usbail0417_web_0.pdf “Not in it for Justice,” p. 17-18;
https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml? bill_id=201720180SB10; Section 1(a) of SB 10, as amended September 6, 2017.