Bail and Bail Bonds – How They Work

Bail Bonds
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An Overview of Bail, Bail Bonds, and Bondsmen

If you, or someone you know, is arrested, charged with a crime, and incarcerated, it is important to understand how bail bonds work. This article provides a general overview of bail bonds, how they work in the legal system, and how much they cost. In addition, I’ll provide an overview of the role bounty hunters and fugitive recovery agents play. Also, I’ll suggest a few books to help you learn more.

What is Bail?

When someone is arrested, a bail amount is assigned when the person gets admitted to jail. Bail is money or property promised to a court of law to allow a person charged with a crime to be released. 

Jails and correctional facilities have standard collateral amounts corresponding to the most common crimes. This allows the arrested person to get out of jail more quickly, rather than waiting a day or more to see a judge.

The person arrested (also known as the defendant), an attorney, or a friend/relative can pay the money.

The money can also be put up by a surety (usually a bail bondsman) with the understanding that the accused person will appear in court. If the defendant doesn’t appear in court, they lose the money.

Bail Statistics in the U.S.

Here is a list of statistics about bail in the United States:

  • Pretrial detention: According to the Prison Policy Initiative, nearly 75% of people in local jails across the United States are awaiting trial, indicating that they have not been convicted of a crime and are presumed innocent.
  • Bail rates: The median bail amount set for felony offenses is $10,000, as reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. However, bail amounts can vary significantly depending on the jurisdiction and the seriousness of the charges.
  • Inability to pay: Research shows that approximately 60% of individuals in jail cannot afford the bail amount set for their release. This can result in prolonged pretrial detention and negative consequences, including job loss and family disruption.
  • Racial disparities: There are significant racial disparities in the setting of bail. According to a report by the Pretrial Justice Institute, Black and Hispanic defendants face higher bail amounts than white defendants, even when charged with similar offenses.
  • Cash bail system: Most jurisdictions in the United States use a cash bail system, where defendants must pay the full bail amount to secure their release. This system can disproportionately impact low-income individuals who may not have the financial resources to post bail.
  • Bail bond industry: The bail bond industry plays a significant role in the United States. In this system, defendants can seek the services of a bail bondsman who posts bail on their behalf for a fee, typically around 10% of the total bail amount. The bail bondsman assumes responsibility for ensuring the defendant’s appearance in court.
  • Pretrial release alternatives: Some jurisdictions have implemented alternatives to cash bail, such as supervised release, pretrial services, or non-financial conditions like electronic monitoring. These alternatives aim to reduce the reliance on money as a determinant of pretrial release.
  • Impact on recidivism: Research suggests that individuals detained pretrial are more likely to receive harsher sentences and have higher recidivism rates than those released before trial. This raises concerns about the effectiveness of pretrial detention as a public safety measure.
  • Bail reform efforts: In recent years, there has been a growing movement for bail reform in the United States. Many jurisdictions have implemented changes to reduce reliance on cash bail, promote pretrial services, and address disparities in the system.
  • Legislative changes: Several states, including California, New Jersey, and New York, have enacted significant bail reform measures, such as eliminating cash bail for certain offenses or implementing risk assessment tools to guide release decisions.

A judge sets the amount.

In some cases, a bail security amount is not automatic. This means that the individual must appear before a judge to have the appropriate collateral amount assigned.

If a judge sets the bail, the amount is related to the crime’s seriousness and the defendant’s potential flight risk. Typically, the greater the flight risk, the higher the amount of security. The judge presiding over the particular case makes the decision. The plaintiff or defendant and their legal team can influence the decision by presenting evidence or information.

The Role of the Bail Bondsman/Agent

A bail bond agent, or bail bondsman, is a person or company that acts as a surety for a person accused of a crime. The bondsman pledges money or property to ensure the accused person will appear in a court of law.

Bail bondsman agents can usually secure their customers’ release in just a few hours. In any given city, you’ll see billboards and signs all over town advertising their services, especially near the local jail or prison.

How Much Do Bail Bond Agents Charge?

Bail Bonds charge a fee equal to a percentage of the bond. Typically, the fee is 10% for a state criminal charge and 15% for a federal charge. However, in some states, there is a standard fee for all bail bond agents who operate in the state. The agents can charge fees for additional expenses as well.

In some states, the court will accept 10% of the bail amount in cash. If the accused appears in court, the poster can get a refund. For larger guarantee amounts, the bond agent will get security against one of the defendant’s assets, such as their home.

Bounty Hunting and Fugitive Recovery

In some situations, a bail bondsman has to track down a defendant. An agent uses a Bounty Hunter to find the defendant when there is a higher security guarantee amount. For an example of bounty hunting in action, watch the TV series Dog the Bounty Hunter.

Bounty hunting is illegal in some states, and the bail bond agent is responsible for apprehending the fugitive. In most other countries, there is no such thing as bail, and bounty hunting is illegal.

Some states have also discontinued the practice of commercial bail bonding altogether. Examples of such states include Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, and Wisconsin. In addition, the practice has ended in Massachusetts, but it is not illegal.

The American Bar Association and the National District Attorneys Association feel the practice discriminates against certain groups. In addition, they feel that the criminal justice system should manage the process. 

Also, learn more on Wikipedia.

Bail Bonds 101 The Complete Guide to Owning and Operating a Successful Bail Bond Company
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Sean Cook (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 185 Pages – 02/01/2005 (Publication Date) – Bail Out Publishing (Publisher)

Although this book is not specifically about bail bonds, it does a great job of explaining how the industry works. The book focuses mainly on what it takes to set up a bail bonds business. However, it provides useful insight and information that would be helpful for private investigators.

In addition, the book includes helpful sections on how to post bonds and handle forfeitures. Also, it explains how the court system works, how to develop relationships with attorneys, and much more. It is still a good resource for understanding the overall process.

The helpful guide may even give you a “behind the scenes” view to understand better how to deal with bail bondsmen.

How to Start a Bail Bond Business and Become a Bail Bondsman
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Verrochi, Richard (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 123 Pages – 09/01/2006 (Publication Date) – Richard Verrochi (Publisher)

This is another helpful book focusing on starting a bail industry business. In addition to explaining how to set up your business, it goes into the history of bail and licensing. In addition, it discusses how to market and promote your business and how to sell it when the time comes.

Also, it includes a collection of resources such as websites and specific email addresses for people who can give you advice along the way.

Learn More About Bail Bonds

Watch this helpful YouTube video to learn more.

If you would like to learn more about how bail bonds work, watch this YouTube video by eHow:

Questions and Comments

If you have any questions about bail bonds, the process, or bondsmen, please post a comment below.

Michael Kissiah is the owner of Brandy Lane Publishing, LLC, which owns and operates a small portfolio of websites, including Michael created more than 20 years ago after working as a private investigator in the state of Florida. Since that time, he has become an expert at how to find information online and has written over 1000 articles on topics related to the investigation industry. In addition, he is the author of the "Private Investigator Licensing Handbook", available at


  1. I like how you mentioned it’s especially important to know how bail bonds work in case you or a loved one has been charged with a crime or even arrested. My brother is thinking of looking for a bail bondsman because his son was put in jail last week for driving his friend’s car on the highway without a license or insurance. It might be a good idea for my brother to consider hiring a reputable professional that can help him financially to release his son from prison while they await the court date.

  2. As I was passing by certain parts of town, I saw multiple ads for bail bondsmen and became curious as to what they really do. It’s great that you elaborated on their role as a person who will ensure someone’s court appearance because many times have I thought of what might happen if the accused person does not present themselves. It especially helped when you broke down the common costs of these agents just in case I may need to hire one’s services in the future. I imagined that if an unfortunate event would happen to one of my relatives, I would need to have a bail bond agent in quick contact.

  3. I like that you have shared about the charges of the bail bonds according to their categories like stage crime charges and federal crime charges. This blog will give a clear idea to those who have bit knowledge about the bail bonds.

  4. I like that you mentioned that bail bondsman agents are usually able to secure their customer’ release in just a few hours. My boyfriend was just arrested, and we are trying to figure out what we should do now. I think contacting a bail bondsman would be a good idea so that he can be out and we can figure out what to do from there together. Thanks for the information about how bail bonds work.

  5. I really appreciate your explanation of bail bondsmen and how they act as beneficiaries that ensure the accused person will appear in court. I think that working with a bail bondsman is vital if you are faced with charges that have the chance of being dropped. If I had a loved one in such a situation, I would make sure to work with a bond service that charges a reasonable rate for their services.

  6. I had no idea that bounty hunters could work with bail bonds if a defendant tries to get away. My brother was recently arrested for supposed possession of an illegal firearm, but he claims it is all a misunderstanding and is really nervous about the situation. Because I’m afraid that my brother might do something unwise, I’ll look into if a bail bondsman that can handle the situation and can turn to a bounty hunter should the case arise.


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