John Legend and Rashad Robinson: The Illusion of Justice


May 24, 2018

It may surprise many to know that the American Bail Coalition and Color of Change have more in common than you may think – we are both champions for communities of color.

The recent CNN Opinion “John Legend and Rashad Robinson: End money bail now”, however, is an ugly reminder of just how disconnected Mr. Legend and Mr. Robinson are from the reality of what the bail industry does, how we function, and why their efforts will end up hurting the communities they claim to serve.

Color of Change purports to “move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America.”  Our industry helps the families of those same individuals when they’ve been charged with a crime by securing their release from custody and by guaranteeing their court appearance when a bail has been set by the courts.

Far from preying on people of color and poor communities, our system of bail provides a much needed and indispensable safety valve for these same people to get released from custody quickly and efficiently.  Without bail bonds, many people would never see the light of day before trial.  Is this really a better system?

The commercial bail industry exists for the very reason that there are people who cannot afford to pay the full amount of the bail.  If everyone could afford their full bail, there wouldn’t be a bail industry.  When a judge sets bail and a family can’t afford to pay the full amount, they can go to a bail agent and pay a small non-refundable fee (typically anywhere from 7-10% of the bond) and have their family member released on bond.  The bail agent guarantees the full amount of the bond to the court and is held responsible should the defendant fail to appear.  By having family members and the defendant involved in this process, the system creates incentives for the accused to appear in court.  That is the essence of a court’s setting of bail in the first place.  If a defendant fails to appear, our system of justice cannot function.

Meanwhile, the commercial bail industry has been helping families in need (of all colors, religions, and races) since 1898 to navigate the criminal justice system and to secure the release of millions.  Millions.  While Color of Change sets up shop in New York City, small mom and pop bail agencies have set up shop in thousands of cities and towns across America – servicing our clients 24 hours a day – and serving the victims of crime and the court system by guaranteeing appearance and by not handing the taxpayer the bill.

Along with serving our communities, our businesses are a cross section of American families.  Woman and men, black and white, and all races, colors, and genders…our industry is as diverse as they come – and we work, live, and contribute in our communities.

The misguided and ill-informed.

The recent CNN opinion, clearly meant to be a rallying cry against our industry, is simply a misguided and tiresome argument chocked full of mistruths – supported by distorted “facts” by other “reformers” like the Pretrial Justice Institute and Justice Policy Institute.  To begin with, it is sheer nonsense to suggest our jails are full of people who simply can’t afford a small bail amount.  There are many reasons why defendants are not released:  probation violations, prior failures to appear in court, mental evaluations, ICE holds, awaiting sentencing on other charges, etc.  The bail industry has nothing to do with these legal “holds”.

Legend and Robinson claim that “no one should have to stay in jail because they lack the money to buy their freedom”.  But no one is “buying” their freedom.  Nearly every state constitution guarantees the right to bail upon sufficient sureties.  The law recognizes that people should be free prior to trial but only if they can make a legitimate promise to appear.  And the way to do that is by pledging money or property.  For those with no money or family to help, we wholeheartedly agree that the court should take another look and craft an alternate solution where possible.

And while Legend and Robinson want to throw out this system, they offer no alternative to maintain public safety and protect victims of crime.  Do we really want to simply release everyone accused of a crime and hope for the best?  Harris County, Texas just tried such an experiment.  Nearly half of all the accused failed to show up for court.  Is this justice?

RELATED:  Myths of Bail Reform

Are poor black people punished for being poor and black?

Legend and Robinson have joined the ranks of those attempting to destroy criminal accountability by harnessing the contentious issue of race as part of their mantra.

Legend and Robinson hit the ground running again with the idea that somehow bail disproportionately targets black people.  Not only is this offensive and ignorant, it’s wasted energy for an organization that should be focusing on efforts to improve the lives of all impoverished black people – instead of focusing their efforts solely on those charged with criminal offenses.  We would remind Legend and Robinson that bail setting has no color or gender preference and is carefully considered by experienced judges in every court room in America.

Also, what about the black victims of crime?  How does the Color of Change agenda address the death of Christian Rodgers – gunned down by Jules Black, a convicted felon who was charged with possession of a firearm and subsequently released by the “reformed” bail system in New Jersey?  Will John Legend and Rashad Robinson fight for June Rodgers, the mother of Christian Rodgers who left behind two kids because a cold-blooded killer was set free with zero accountability?

RELATED:  Testimonials, First Hand Experience with Bail Reform

Careful what you wish for.

While we do promote legislative policy that is both fair and constitutional, they promote more government and state control by allowing those that prosecute you to also be the gatekeepers of your freedom.  Without preventative detention, the no-money bail movement has no footing to stand on.  You simply cannot have a system that relies solely on release with no accountability for any charge no matter how serious.  Enter preventative detention and the idea that anyone can now be held without bail simply on the whim of the courts’ (or computers’) interpretation of your risk to public safety – computerized justice using a “black box” algorithm.

In New Jersey during the first year of implementation of bail reform and the preventative detention component of allowing judges to hold someone charged without bail, 8,043 defendants were held with no chance of release – bail or otherwise.  Of the rest of the defendants that were released, all were placed under governmental pretrial services oversight – many with onerous and unrealistic release conditions, including the modern-day ball and chain of GPS ankle monitoring.  Why would anyone want to deprive themselves of their option to be released discreetly and privately by a third party – and instead be monitored and scrutinized by the very people that are attempting to prosecute them?

More in common than you may think.

Legend and Robinson have been quick to judgement on an industry routinely misrepresented and misunderstood.  While Legend and Robinson (and Robinson’s Color of Change) have only just joined the criminal justice reform discussion, we have been at it for quite some time now.

Our industry has long said that jailing individuals with mandatory monetary bail conditions on low-level misdemeanors (especially those that have no risk of jail time) really serves no purpose.  That said, discretion to set bail should always be available to judges as it continues to act as a deterrent for repeat offenders of nuisance crimes and protects businesses and victims alike.

For all the things that we may have in common or may not have in common, one issue we will not waiver on is the constitutional right to bail, accountability, and justice for victims.

For 120 years we have stood as a champion for those accused, a watch dog for victims of crime, and a partner to courts in the deliverance of justice within our court justice system.  We are proud of our diverse and multicultural group of agents across the country and will not stand idle while those with false assumptions continue to berate our industry.

Too many people depend on us…and not even a 10-time Grammy winner is going to change that.


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