Wisconsin is one of only four states that prohibit the operation of commercial bail bond agencies; now, a Madison-based researcher says changing that could result in fewer suspects fleeing before they face trial.
In most Wisconsin counties, judges decide who stays in jail until trial and who gets set free. They look at the severity of the crime, the suspect's criminal history, family ties in the community and financial ability to post bail. They then either set bail or release the suspect. If bail is set and the suspect doesn't appear in court, it is up to the court system to find them and collect the bail.
In her paper published by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, Kate Lind says commercial bail companies can do a better job than the court system, because the success of their business depends on it.
"They can make their own assessment if they think it's worth taking the risk for the individual, and if the defendant does fail to appear, it's much easier to collect from one of these bails commercial insurance companies than it would be to collect from the individual you might not even be able to find any more."
But in Milwaukee and Eau Claire, judges are experimenting with a new risk assessment process to help them decide who should be released without bail and what kind of monitoring best assures that suspects will show up in court. Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm says that process is working and reducing the need to set bail. He would like to see money taken out of the equation altogether.
"If we become comfortable with this system I would actually encourage us to expand the things like electronic monitoring in the community and release without cash bail, and then for the people that we just think are too risky, we hold them without bail."
A bill that would have allowed commercial bail companies to operate in the state failed to pass in the last budget session.