Measure would put courts in bail bond business

DENVER — Judicial districts around the state could go into the bail-bonding business under a bill that has private bail bonders worried their industry is under attack.

A bill working its ways through the Colorado Legislature would allow certain defendants, whom bonding companies consider too risky to serve, to post a bond with the court instead of having to stay in jail.

The proposal would save tax dollars by keeping people out of jail, and it would improve public safety because the money raised would pay for pretrial services for lower-risk defendants, the bill’s sponsors said.

Bail bondsmen say the measure could put them out of business.

“Of course it’s going to put private business out,” said Bob Cunningham, a Grand Junction bondsman. “The government is going to have to hire more people, and they’ll be bondsman paid by the government processing these people.”

The two Colorado Springs lawmakers who introduced the measure, Democratic Senate Majority Leader John Morse and Republican Rep. Mark Waller, said the measure wouldn’t take clients away from bondsmen because it would help people they won’t serve: repeat offenders who are flight risks or have a history of ignoring their court dates.

If the measure does adversely affect the industry, however, so be it, Morse said.

“It’s the moral mission of government to provide public safety, and it is the moral mission of the private sector to make money,” said Morse, a former police chief. “We’re not getting public safety out of bail bondsmen. Right now, we let the private market decide if you’re going to sit in jail.”

Under the bill, the chief judge in each of the state’s 22 judicial districts could choose to use the alternative bonding option. If they do, half of the money earned from the bonds could be used to fund pretrial service programs for defendants who have been released on personal-recognizance bonds, Morse and Waller said.

There are 10 pretrial-service programs operating in the state, including one in Mesa County.

Those state-run programs are designed to do more than traditional bail bondsmen, whose only task is to ensure their clients show up in court when they’re supposed to. Pretrial programs also monitor defendants to ensure they are doing other court-ordered programs such as taking alcohol-treatment classes or wearing ankle bracelets.

The measure, SB186, awaits debate by the full Senate.


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