JONESBORO, Ark. – Changes are coming in 2024 to Arkansas for bail bond requirements, and there are some concerns that it will make it harder for defendants to bail out. Some are even worried it could lead to jail overcrowding issues.
The 132-page ‘Protect Arkansas Act’ was passed at the end of the regular 2023 session and functions to reform the criminal justice process in Arkansas in a variety of ways. The most notable was ‘truth-in-sentencing’ changes, campaigned on by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, that make parole impossible for those convicted of the most serious crimes.
But there are many more changes the law is bringing about that have received less attention. Among those are changes to the bail bond process that industry experts are warning will make bailing out of jail much more complicated.
Bail Bond Changes
The most notable change, according to Cari Gulley of Gulley Bail Bonds, is that the law will now require bail bond companies to collect the full 10 percent of the bail before the defendant is allowed to be released from jail.
“It doesn’t matter if someone you’ve written bonds to for ten years or if it’s a farmhand and the employer can’t get off a tractor and needs their employee back,” Gulley told NEA Report.
A subject with a $50,000 bond previously could have set up a payment arrangement for their $5,000 requirement. Now, they’ll have to pay the full amount up front before release. The bonding company will also have to submit new paperwork to the sheriff swearing the full collection was made.
The process becomes even more complicated if property is being used in lieu of a bond. Where bail bond companies previously had flexibility to simply collect a title or deed, now it must be transferred over to the surety. The bonding company then must submit documentation to the court showing that the title/deed has been transferred and that its value is enough to equal the value of the bond amount.
Craighead County District Judge Tommy Fowler says the court is working on a process for that, now.
“I will sit down with Judge David Boling and he and I will work together to draft some forms moving forward on January 1 that if someone decides to use the property section of the bond requirement, it is easier for them to come in and show us,” Fowler said. “That could be the bondsman themselves or it could be the person. The way I read that is it doesn’t have to be the person. Then they could take it to the sheriff’s department.”
However, Gulley cautions that these new requirements could result in major jail overcrowding problems that could then, in turn, force the early release of more inmates.
“If every bail bonds company abides by this, in two weeks’ time, you’re going to have these jails bursting at the seams,” Gulley said. “So they’re just going to start releasing people. The sheriff in each jail is going to say these people have been here X amount of time. At that point, people are released, and no bondsman is monitoring them.”
Craighead County Sheriff Marty Boyd said he could be wrong, but he does not believe the new changes will lead to an overcrowding issue.
“I think they’re going to continue to bond,” Sheriff Boyd said. “I think this just shores up that the person getting out of jail has money to lose if they don’t show back up to court. I’m for it. I think there should be at least a 10 percent collection on it. In the grand scheme, I think out of 100 people, maybe 2 or 3 will stay in jail over the ten percent.”
Jimmy Gazaway sponsored the same legislation in the Arkansas House that eventually became law, Senate Bill 495. He told NEA Report lawmakers would be monitoring for the possibility of an overcrowding issue.
“I think judges now might be more inclined to set bonds that are more reasonable because they know the bondsman can’t just bond them out for $100,” Gazaway said. “It may change the way judges set the amounts of bonds. There’s ways the system can adjust. But we are going to have to monitor it to see because that is a potential concern. If it looks like that is going to happen, we are obviously going to have to consider some other changes.”
The Spirit of the Law
Gazaway said the idea behind the law was comprehensive criminal justice reform that addressed various problems he was hearing from judges, sheriffs, prosecutors, and others in the criminal justice system.
“We tried to take in a range of topics and address those issues,” Gazaway said. “One of those things we heard pretty commonly was reforms with respect to bond. Probably the main concern we heard from law enforcement was that the judge will set a bond, make it cash/surety so it is bondable, and then the bondsman wasn’t collecting 10 percent of whatever the amount was. The judge could set a $500,000 bond, and people could get out of jail for $250. Bondsman were writing bonds on payment plans with $100 down, rendering bonds meaningless. That’s frustrating for law enforcement because they just arrested someone for a serious crime, the judge set a high bond, and the next thing you know, the suspect is back out on the street.”
It’s an issue Cari Gulley is all too aware of. While Gulley Bail Bonds works by the book, she said some other companies aren’t as reputable, and it causes issues for everyone.
“We have so many fly-by-night companies coming in here who just want to get some of the bond,” Gulley said. “We’re getting people who don’t have any standards and do whatever they want to do. It’s made the courts mad, and I don’t blame them for being mad, but I don’t know that this is the answer. Just like everything in life, this is going to punish the people who are rule followers, and the people who are shady are going to find a way around it.”
A public bail reporting system is to be created under the Protect Arkansas Act. The system will include names, arrest dates and locations, case numbers, charges, bail amounts, date of bond release, judges’ names, and dates of each conviction of the defendant and corresponding case numbers.
The new law also tightens restrictions on defendants and bail bond companies for when defendants fail to appear. Previously, sureties would be liable if defendants aren’t produced within 75 days of a failure to appear. Starting in 2024, the new law shortens that to 30 days.
Questions remain as to how the bail industry will be affected in Arkansas come January 1, 2024. Rep. Gazaway and other lawmakers will be monitoring the results of the new law. Their hope, Gazaway said, is simply to improve public safety.
“We hope that it does that, particularly with regard to the repeat and violent offenders,” Gazaway said. “That was the concern we heard from law enforcement.”
And even though they have concerns, too, Gulley hopes the new law will be helpful to an already-strained criminal justice system in Arkansas.
“We feel like if everyone works together, this could be the best thing ever and get this industry back on course,” Gulley said. “Instead of inmates price shopping, decisions will be based on professionalism, customer service and integrity.”
Only time will tell the end result.