Criminal Injustice in Bail Bond Exploitation and Jury Selection and Verdict System

A sign for Blair’s Bail Bonds in New Orleans. Some states give bail bond agents broad latitude to arrest their clients for any reason. Credit William Widmer for The New York Times

New Orleans    No April Fool’s, I’m proud to live in New Orleans.  It takes character and resilience to weather the storm.  The city is welcoming and distinct, diverse and textured.  Traveling around the world it brings smiles to faces and always “I wanna comes.”  It’s also a place of shame that triggers anger, and today the feeling is inescapable when I can’t ignore the publicity involving the gross injustice involved in our predatory bail bond system or the Jim Crow stone cold racism that has infected our jury and conviction system with injustice.  How many people woke up on an Easter morning with a frown on their faces as they looked at the front pages of both The New York Times and the New Orleans Advocate?  I can only hope it will be everyone who lives in New Orleans or Louisiana or cares about either or both of these places.

The Times’ story begins with the hard luck tale of Ronald Egana being rousted by a bail bondsman as he shows up for a court date so that he can be shaken down for money from his family.  We slide downhill from there, but the phrase that pretty much says it all is when the authors state baldly that “bond agents have become the payday lenders of the criminal justice world, offering quick relief to desperate customers at high prices.”

The case is hard to ignore.  It’s widespread, though New Orleans sticks out as “worst in class.”  As the Times points out:

The use of financial conditions for bail has not always been as widespread as it is currently.  In 1990, only 24% of those released from jail before trial were required to pay.  The number had soared to almost 50% by 2009.  In some areas it is higher.  In New Orleans in 2015 the Vera Institute found that 63% of misdemeanor defendants and 87% of felony defendants had to pay to be released before trial.

As the story argues further,

Reports are finding that bail bonds are keeping the poorest, rather than the most dangerous defendants in jail.  Bail operators are falling in a regulatory gap between criminal courts and insurance departments, which are supposed to regulate them but seldom impose sanctions.  It is also unclear whether consumer protection laws apply despite the predatory nature of some of the penalties and fees.

Will it change?  It can, but it won’t be easy.  Bail bonds companies are big and consistent contributors to political campaigns at every level of the system.  There is a picture in the Times of Blair’s Bail Bonds on the front page and several examples in the article that point a finger that is hard to avoid.  The owner Blair Boutte is an operator.  He is a political consultant who is very well connected to New Orleans Congressman Cedric Richmond.  He’s got juice that will be hard to ignore.

Predatory bail practices though may be easier to rein in than repealing the Jim Crow law that makes Louisiana the only state in the country that allows a non-unanimous jury to convict in a criminal case.  Oregon hangs out there as the only other state allowing a non-unanimous jury on other offenses.  Not surprisingly roughly 40% of the people who are convicted in Louisiana jury trials are convicted by non-unanimous 12-member juries.  Way more of these convictions occur for black defendants than for whites.  Without embarrassment, prosecutors strike black jurors at almost three times the rate as they do white jurors.  The legislative history of the law, as The Advocate detailed, make it clear that this injustice came from a deliberate effort in post-Civil War Louisiana to re-institute white supremacy and control the African-American population.  That was the plan then, and that’s the plan now.

Living in and loving New Orleans and Louisiana can’t be something to cause people to live in shame, and the criminal justice system there and everywhere in America has to at least guarantee justice no matter the outcome.


The Color Barrier for Black Men is Mile High Preventing Equality

New Orleans   An exhaustive study of Census Bureau figures for 20 million people now in their late 30s by researchers from Stanford and Harvard has produced some terrible facts that establish firm proof behind what many have suspected:  race is ubiquitous in oppressing and institutionalizing inequality among African-American men.

As a community organizer, one of the most frightening discoveries of this study is that that this is true in virtually every census track in the country.  In other words, there is no community that is a model.  Among the best might be Silver Springs, Maryland, a Washington suburb, but for the most part the rest of the country discriminates at some level or another constantly in terms of inequality according to the facts of the matter.  Worse, this constant racism reverberates over and over again in other areas as well when it comes to black men.

To draw from the New York Times:

  • Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children.
  • White boys who grow up rich are likely to remain that way. Black boys raised at the top, however, are more likely to become poor than to stay wealthy in their own adult households.
  • Most white boys raised in wealthy families will stay rich or upper middle class as adults, but black boys raised in similarly rich households will not.
  • Even when children grow up next to each other with parents who earn similar incomes, black boys fare worse than white boys in 99 percent of America. And the gaps only worsen in the kind of neighborhoods that promise low poverty and good schools.
  • Black and white girls from families with comparable earnings attain similar individual incomes as adults.

The results of this discrimination correlate with experiences early in life.  The study also leads to the conclusion that testing does not accurately measure the abilities of black children.  Even when black men were boys they experienced the impact of poverty and discrimination differently than girls.  School discipline is inordinately distributed to black boys and young men rather than other groups.  This level of racism likely impacts employment access as the economy has become more service-based and customer facing than industrial and manufacturing.

The authors of the study believe that the data demands policy solutions that are specifically targeted to the individual and structural racism that impacts black men, and who can disagree.

Professor Kendi of American University nailed the results of this study to the wall, saying, “One of the most popular liberal post-racial ideas is the idea that the fundamental problem is class and not race, and clearly this study explodes that idea.  But for whatever reason, we’re unwilling to stare racism in the face.”

Likely that’s because of racism itself, Professor.