When someone arrested for a crime, a bail bondsman pays the bail so that person can go free until it is time for the trial. The bondsman charges a fee of 10 to 15 percent of the total cash bond assigned by the court. If the per son doesn’t appear for trial, the bondsman must find the person and bring him or her back. Over 10,000 bondsmen work in the United States—most bondsmen do this as a full-time job, but some only work part-time. Because the work bondsmen do relies on criminal activities, larger cities have the greatest need for bondsmen.
Bail bonding is a long-established tradition of the American legal system. Posting bail to temporarily free someone who is accused of a crime began in colonial times. Colonists lived under the English common law that they brought with them. People who were charged with crimes were released if someone in the community would vouch for them. At first, if the new person didn’t show up for the trial, the person who guaranteed the accused persons appearance had to face the punishment that would have been given to the accused person. Later, this practice changed so that property was used to guarantee the appearance of someone for trial, in that way, if the person hiiled to appear for trial, the person who promised that the accused would appear only lost property and did not have to face punishment. As crime increased and the need for making sure accused people showed up for court grew, the courts continued to allow the practice of posting bail. In fact, the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Bail bonding today allows jail space to be freed for serious criminals and helps to ensure that everyone is truly “innocent until proven guilty”
Bail bondsmen work to ensure that a person released from jail will appear again in court as ordered. Put yourself in the bail bondsman’s shoes for a moment, and the scenario plays out like this: It’s late and your phone rings. The guy on the other end is in trouble with the law, but his court date is two months down the road. The judge set his bail for $10,000 and he doesn’t have that kind of money He doesn’t want to sit in jail for two months for something he says he didn’t do. (You have your doubts, but that’s not really an issue.) He wants you to put the $10,000 up for him and in return he will pay you a fee of 10 percent of the total bail amount ($1,000). Now you have to decide if this guy is a good risk—if he doesn’t show up for his court date, you’ll lose the money you post for his bail. After gathering more information, you decide to post his bail. If he shows up for court, you get your money back; if he doesn’t, you either go after him yourself or you hire bail enforcement agents (or bounty hunters) to track him down and bring him back. The court gives you from 90 to 180 days to bring the defendant back before your money is forfeited to the court system.
Bail bondsmen are risk takers. Every time they decide to post bail for someone, it is a risk. Most bondsmen have reliability standards that they use to determine whether someone is more likely to show up for court or to run and hide. The bondsman looks into the person’s criminal record, employment history living arrangements, family situation, and community ties. The type of alleged crime also affects whether a person will run. The arrestee’s past criminal record and the state’s case against him is looked into as well.
Some bondsmen consider first time offenders had risks because those people are often most terrified about going to jail. People who have a history of crime patterns, such as prostitutes and drug users, are also considered bad risks. On the other hand, drug dealers and professional criminals are good risks because these groups of people usually need to stay in the same area and they want to keep the trust of a bondsman so they can rely on him later.
To help cut down the risk of someone “jumping bail,” the bondsman spends time monitoring the people for whom he has posted bail. Some even include a stipulation in the agreement for posting bail that the accused per son must call in on a regular basis to verify his whereabouts. If the accused person isn’t calling in on schedule, the bondsman can get a head start on tracking him down.
For some bondsmen, tracking down bail jumpers is a large part of the job, and it takes up the most time. Other bondsmen choose to hire out this part of the process to bounty hunters, who retrieve the runaway and return him to the bondsman for a fee. Sometimes the bondsman will pay the bounty hunter as much as 50 percent of the total bond if the accused person is returned. The bondsman pays this high amount because if the runaway isn’t returned, the bondsman loses all the money he has posted for bail—better to lose only half the money instead of all of it. For the bail bondsman who takes tracking into his own hands, the search can lead all over the country The bondsmen call the accused’s family, friends, employers, and anyone they can find to try and get a lead that will eventually take them to the bail jumper. They make use of computer databases to check into records showing credit activity estates, and death certificates. When the person is located, the bondsman must confront the individual and bring him or her back. Most bondsmen use firearms to make arrests and to protect themselves from possible harm. Often a bondsman will make an early morning capture, making use of the element of surprise. For a potentially dangerous “skip,” the bonds man and his backup team may have to break down a door with guns drawn, or they may opt to work with the local sheriff’s department in the instance of known violent offenders.
While the qualifications vary from state to state, the basic requirements for a bail bondsman are to be at least 18 years of age, have a high school diploma or GED, and have no felony police record.
To prepare for a career as a ball bondsman, consider focusing on computers, accounting, mathematics, government, social studies, and geography. Accounting, computers, and mathematics will prepare you to handle book keeping, record keeping, and negotiations concerning bail money. Because you’ll be using a computer for tracing bail jumpers, try to spend as much time as you can perfecting your computer skills.
Some college-level course work in criminal justice and psychology and training in law enforcement techniques are helpful. Many of today’s bail bonds men have college degrees in criminal justice, although that is not a requirement.
Certification or Licensing
Some states require would-be bail bondsmen to attain a property and casualty insurance license requiring several hours of class work under the jurisdiction of the State Director of Insurance or State Department of Professional Regulation. Other states require you to pass a bail-bond certification exam. Most states that require exams or licensing also require several hours of continuing education classes, each year to keep the license current. You will need a gun license if you plan to use a firearm.
Bail bondsmen need to have people skills that allow them to effectively communicate with the clients and law enforcement officers they contact daily. They must also be able to deal with high levels of stress and tense situations. Bail bondsmen who do not hire bounty hunters must be physically fit in order to be prepared for any violent or challenging situation.
Try to arrange to go on a police ride-along to get a taste of what it takes to arrest or confront someone who does not want to cooperate. Also, try to get a part-time job that allows you to deal face-to-face with other people—any thing from a crowd control team member at a concert to a security assistant at an amusement park. Working for a security office or for the local court sys tem as a background checker is great experience as well. Give a bail bonds man a call and ask questions. Get on the Web and search under “bail bonding” to see just how many bail bondsmen are out there; check out their Web sites to learn what kinds of services are offered.
Bail bondsmen usually work for other bondsmen or own their own small businesses. Many bondsmen join together to form a partnership to share the workload and to pool their resources. Established bondsmen usually hire several young bondsmen to do the background checking and research. Although almost all towns and cities have bail bondsmen at work, you’ll find most bondsmen in large towns and cities. The more people are crammed into a city, the greater the crime and the greater the need for bail bonds to be posted.
You probably won’t see as many ads in the newspaper for bondsmen as you do for say administrative assistants, but keep an eye on the classifieds any way—especially in the big city newspapers. If you want a more direct approach, try calling your local police for some recommendations of experienced bondsmen that you can contact to inquire about a job. Before becoming a bondsman, you may get your feet wet by doing background checks, chasing down leads, and handling paperwork. If work as a bondsman isn’t immediately available, start out in related jobs, such as police and security positions.
A bail bondsman can remain an independent agent, owning his own business, or can advance to managerial positions with a managing general agent. In a partnership, a bondsman can advance to become the supervising bonds man, assigning work to more inexperienced bondsmen. There are various jobs that relate to the work of bail bondsmen, such as property and casualty insurance agent, detective, and the court system jobs of pretrial release officer, release on recognizance worker, and probation officer.
Because most bondsmen have their own businesses, earnings vary according to how much time and effort is invested in the job. Newcomers to the job can usually earn $25,000 a year and the experienced professional can earn as much as $60,000, according to the American Bail Research Institute. Earnings also depend on where the bondsman conducts business. Larger cities offer the most opportunity to make money; however, a well-run business in a medium-sized city can also be highly profitable. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, 95 percent of a bondsman’s clients must show up in court for the business to be successful.
Bondsmen work out of offices; some do the work from their homes. Usually the bondsman is located close to the courthouse so the accused can get immediate service. Bondsmen can work alone or as a team with other bonds men and people who monitor clients and research background information. Bondsmen spend a lot of time doing paperwork; they must keep records detailing all of their actions and contracts with clients.
Bail bondsmen who choose to do their own tracking also spend a lot of time traveling to find bail jumpers. Tracking bail jumpers and bringing them back to court can be dangerous. Bail bondsmen often deal with people who are desperate to remain free.
Ball bonding is not a nine-to-five job. Because people get arrested at all hours, bondsmen are on call 24 hours a day. If a bail jumper needs to be rounded up, hours are spent in surveillance to determine just the right moment to move in. Beepers and cellular phones are used to keep the bonds men available to clients who need their services.
Bondsmen are in contact with many different people during the course of a day. They interview friends and relatives of a bail jumper and work with court personnel.
Opportunities for bail-bonding work are growing as people with criminal justice, law enforcement, and insurance training enter and gain success in the field, thus gaining the public’s respect for the necessity of this work. There are about 10,000 bail bondsmen nationwide, according to the Professional Bail Bonding Agents of the United States (PBUS). PBUS also reports that about 48 percent of that number are women. The number per state varies widely; for example, the Department of Justice reports that South Carolina has approximately 300 licensed bail agents, while Florida has almost 1,400. The Florida State Department of Insurance reports that the number of bondsmen has grown rapidly since 1996. PBUS says the bail bondsman career is a growing field, but the use of personal recognizance bail has had a negative impact on its growth. (When judges release an accused person on their own personal recognizance, there is no need for bail bond service; how ever, there is also no guarantee that the person will show up for court.)
Bail bonding is an industry under constant scrutiny by the justice sys tem, primarily because of the authority of the bail bondsman to engage in activities that some law enforcers cannot perform (such as entering homes without a warrant in search of a bail jumper and crossing state lines to apprehend someone) and what is said to be a financial rather than moral interest in bringing criminals back to trial.
For More Information
For an information packet about bail bondsmen, contact:
Professional Bail Bonding Agents of the United States
1155 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036
For general information about the field and for specific information about operating on the West Coast, contact:
California Bail Agents Association
1127 11th Street, Suite 331
Sacramento, CA 95814-3809
To learn about bail-bond agent classes and certification procedures, contact:
Gold Coast Professional Schools, Inc.
6600 SW 57 Avenue, Suite 135
Miami, FL 33143
Visit the discussion area of the PBT Web site to participate in an online discussion forum about bail-bonding careers:
Professional Bondsmen of Texas (PBT)
6004 Airport Freeway
Ft. Worth, TX 76117