The Bail Project: Both Sides Of The Issue

The Bail Project has raised 100 million dollars to bail people out of jail, saying it's not fair for people to be in jail because of poverty. But the Bail Project has come under fire for bailing out people who go on to commit more violent crimes, and they don't answer to any state agency in Oklahoma.

Wednesday, November 22nd 2023, 8:24 pm

A Tulsa bail bondsman is sounding the alarm about a national organization that bonds people out of jail for free, called the Bail Project.

They've raised 100 million dollars to bail people out of jail, saying it's not fair for people to be in jail because of poverty.

The Bail Project has come under fire for bailing out people who go on to commit more violent crimes, including murders in Kentucky, Indiana and a man in Vegas who was shot several times by someone bailed out by the Bail project 6 days earlier.

Other states have regulated the Bail Project, but Oklahoma has not.

"When the Bail Project posts that bail, there's no accountability, no rehab and it's making Tulsa a cesspool of crime,” said Rusty Roberts of Rusty Roberts Bail Bonds.

When the Bail Project started in New York, some say violent crime spiked, leading legislators to pass a law saying charitable bond organizations have to be certified by the state and can only bail people out for nonviolent misdemeanors with a bond of 2 thousand dollars or less.

Indiana passed similar legislation and so did Texas.

"They violate the laws of the state of OK. It says to post a cash bond, you have to be a resident of Oklahoma, title to property and utilities in your name in OK or a valid OK driver's license for six months, they do not. They use a Dallas address,” said Roberts.

Bondsmen are not allowed to recruit inmates, but the Bail Project uses people called bail disruptors, who work inside the county jail, to recruit inmates to bond out and Oklahoma sets no limit on the amount of bond they can post or what type of crime.

Records show from January through October of this year, the Bail Project spent 1.3 million dollars to bond out 501 people in Tulsa County.

Nearly half of them were felonies.

From January to June, 53 percent of them either didn't show up for court or got re-arrested.

The Bail Project says nationally, 92 percent of their clients come back to court and the group only bonds out people after a judge determines a person is safe to be released and sets a bond amount.

"With thousands and thousands of clients across the country coming back to court without money on the line, we believe that cash bail should be reduced and eventually eliminated safely," said Nicole Manzano, the Bail Project Policy Director.

The Bail Project is a 501-C-3 non-profit and doesn't believe bond should be a multi-million dollar for-profit industry.

"For-profit bail agents have a profit motive. They receive a 10-15 percent fee for any bond they post. Anytime we provide free bail assistance, they think we are costing them their profits and taking money out of their pockets," said Manzano.

Rusty Roberts has been a bail bondsman for 27 years and says this isn't about money for him; it's about crime.

"They're not hurting the bail industry because they're getting people out, we don't get out, they shouldn't get out. They're hurting the citizens of Tulsa County and the safety of Tulsa County," said Roberts.

He says bondsmen are licensed by the state and regulated by the OK Insurance department and if a bondsman does something wrong, they could lose their license or even be charged with a crime, but no state agency regulates the Bail Project.

"The Bail Project can do anything they want, anything. Nothing is off limits," said Roberts.

He says if a bondsman has a client who doesn't show up for court, the bondsman has 90 days to find that person or is out the money and the bondsman foots the bill to bring that person back, but if someone bonded out by the Bail Project takes off, taxpayers pay to bring them back.

"There's nothing anybody can do once they're released on the Bail Project," said Roberts.

The Bail Project argues bail creates an unfair system that treats people differently based on whether they have money.

They say poor people end up sitting in jail for months before they're even convicted and the majority of them are minorities.

They say when people are in jail while waiting on a trial, they lose their jobs, their homes and often, their kids and they argue, that leads to more crime.

Since they don't charge a fee, they don't think they should follow the same regulations as bondsmen.

"Bondsmen have more rules because they're taking people's money, so it seems odd to put us in the same category," said Manzano.

Roberts agrees people on low bonds shouldn't have to sit in jail because of a lack of money but says Tulsa County has a taxpayer-funded program that helps those people. It's called Pre-trial release.

Oklahoma law says people charged with domestic violence and violating protective orders are not eligible for pre-trial release, but the law doesn't stop the Bail Project from bonding out those offenders.

Roberts says families often have the money to post bond but choose not to until the person agrees to go to rehab or until victims can be put in a safe place.

When bond was created, it was never intended to be punishment but only a guarantee that people would show up for their court dates.

"When these people get out of jail, we supervise them and we make sure they make every court appearance," said Roberts.

District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler sent us a statement about Bail Project that says the following:

“The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office recognizes the important part that bail plays in allowing suspects to bond out of jail while their charges are pending. Bail is contemplated for two purposes. The first is to assure the appearance of an accused offender for future court proceedings. The second is to assure public safety. Oklahoma bail bondsmen are regulated to avoid the perils of abuse and inadequate oversight of people granted bail. It is inconceivable to me that out-of-state actors can insert themselves into this process with less regulation than local Oklahomans. The Bail Project deserves at least as much regulation, if not more considering out-of-state money funds it. This is common sense and will further strengthen public safety.”

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