When I wrote last month about Google’s and Facebook’s ill-advised decision to turn away ads for bail bond services, I hadn’t seen Alex Tabarrok’s insightful post on the same topic, calling the tech giants’ decision “deeply disturbing and wrongheaded.” Excerpt:
Bail bonds are a legal service. Indeed, they are a necessary service for the legal system to function. It’s not surprising that bail bonds are used in communities of color and low income neighborhoods because it is in those neighborhoods that people most need to raise bail. We need not debate whether that is due to greater rates of crime or greater discrimination or both. Whatever the cause, preventing advertising doesn’t reduce the need to pay bail it simply makes it harder to find a lender. Restrictions on advertising in the bail industry, as elsewhere, are also likely to reduce competition and raise prices. Both of these effects mean that more people will find themselves in jail for longer….
Ian Ayres and Joel Waldfogel also found that the bail bond system can (modestly) ameliorate judicial racial bias. Ayres and Waldfogel found that in New Haven in the 1990s black and Hispanic males were assigned bail amounts that were systematically higher than equally-risky whites. The bail bondpersons, however, offered lower prices to minorities–meaning equal net prices for people of equal risk–exactly what one would expect from a competitive industry.
My own research found that defendants released on commercial bail were much more likely to show up for trial than statistical doppelgangers released by other methods. Bounty hunters were also much more likely than the police to capture and bring to justice people who did jump bail. The bail bond system thus provides an important public service at no cost to the public.
In addition to being wrongheaded, Google’s decision is disturbing because it is so obviously a political decision….[Every] time Google acts as a lawgiver instead of an open platform it invites regulation and political control.
Meanwhile, reports from Maryland confirm that (as I’ve warned in the past) that state’s unplanned experiment with curtailing cash bail, without due attention to developing alternative institutions, has led to the retaining in jail of many defendants who otherwise would have rejoined their families [Jayne Miller/WBAL, Scott Shackford/Reason] More links on bail controversies: Scott Greenfield; Daniel Dew, Buckeye Institute last year (pro-reform in Ohio).