Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) says his support for a private bail system and bounty hunters in Wisconsin is a fiscal matter.
The whole point of bond, Vos told a group of Journal Sentinel reporters and editors June 10, 2013, is to guarantee that defendants show up for court.
"Anything that increases the ability of people to show up for court is a good thing because a smaller number of no-shows means more effective and efficient courts and hopefully a smaller cost for taxpayers," he said.
Vos added: "There was a study done by WPRI that showed that Wisconsin has a higher no-show rate than other states. We’re one of only two or four states that doesn’t have bail bonds right now."
With Vos and his Republican colleagues in charge of the Legislature, their move to include a private bail measure in the state budget made its enactment a strong possibility. As it stands, only Wisconsin, Illinois, Oregon and Kentucky bar private bail.
Gov. Scott Walker vetoed a broader provision in 2011, but Vos has narrowed the plan this time to a five-county experiment (Dane, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha) of the type Walker signalled he could support.
Under the proposed system, defendants would pay a bail agent 10 percent of the full bail amount. The company must pay 3 percent of the bail amount to the court. If the defendant fails to appear in court, the bonding company is liable for the full amount.
But a bail agent usually has an opportunity to recover a no-show defendant -- often using bounty hunters.
Bail companies say their work needs no taxpayer funding and enhances public safety by lowering the number of no-shows. Critics say it’s an unfair monetary burden on lower-income people and that elected judges should have primary say over who is held or walks free before trial.
With that in mind, we wondered if Vos was on the mark claiming a study shows that Wisconsin court defendants fail to appear more often than in other states.
Vos cited a March 2013 report ("Should Wisconsin Allow Commercial Bail in Pretrial Release?) by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI), a conservative think-tank based in Hartland.
For the report, which reviewed various studies on bail, the group hired Kate Lind, a Madison lawyer who is Walker’s campaign treasurer and was controller for the state Republican Party. She runs a political consulting firm that helps Republicans comply with campaign finance laws. Lind did an earlier study for WPRI on probation and parole.
Her report concluded that bringing private bail back to Wisconsin, if integrated with pretrial assessments and services, would create a "valuable option to prevent failure to appear while protecting the financial and public safety interests of Wisconsin."
We read Lind’s report and found no state-by-state comparisons of no-show rates, and no data for Wisconsin’s statewide no-show rate.
Lind confirmed she never found any statistics showing that Wisconsin lags behind other states and that it’s probably impossible to do such a comparison due to the lack of data here and elsewhere. Criminal courts typically are county-based, so statewide figures are elusive.
Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer agreed the study does not make the case on Wisconsin versus other states.
Beyer said Vos believes you can infer a disadvantage for Wisconsin because government and academic studies of data from large U.S. counties (including Milwaukee County) have found a lower no-show rate on private bail bonds than on personal-recognizance bonds or most other forms of non-financial release.
Those studies have limitations but do show that disparity, as we reported in rating False a claim by Democratic state Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee that "no statistical evidence" exists that bail bonds increase the likelihood that defendants appear for scheduled hearings.
Most significantly for evaluating Vos’ claim, those studies are not statewide and rely on data from 1998 and earlier in Milwaukee County, where judges say a 2012 internal study found their felony no-show rate is 16 percent. That is below the national average for large counties cited in various studies.
Milwaukee County uses a system of methodically assessing criminal defendants’ risk of flight, and judges there say that would protect public safety better than a commercial bail system.
Vos said a study of private bail bond systems "showed that Wisconsin has a higher no-show rate than other states" of defendants skipping court appearances.
The study doesn’t compare states, and doesn’t include a Wisconsin figure. And while various studies of local municipalities show lower no-show rates for private bail and therefore suggest the same advantage would hold for Wisconsin, Vos spoke as if the question is settled.
We rate his claim False.