With an overhaul of New Jersey’s bail system, which went into effect under a new law on January 1 this year, small businesses in the bail bonding industry are turning to immigrants to shore up revenues. The change in the bail system, intended to reduce jail overcrowding, means bail bond agents are looking to immigrant arrests as a fresh source of business.
Under the new system, which largely does away with financial bail, the services of New Jersey bonding agents are largely unneeded in the state’s courts. In other words, state court judges either detain defendants in jail until their court date or assign a court date when the defendant is expected to appear.
New Jersey counts more than 800 licensed bonding agents in its population. With the new system, which voters in state-approved, courts use an algorithm designed to calculate the risk of a defendant either fleeing before the assigned court date or committing another crime. Judges also consider input from police and prosecutors, according to reporting in The New York Times.
For the bond agents in the state, the change in law means real, bottom-line ramifications. To make up for the business, agents have begun looking outside the usual state court parameters to federal immigration courts, viewed as a growth area under Trump Administration policies. Anecdotally, New Jersey immigration lawyers and bail bond agents say the numbers of detained immigrants are on the rise.
Detention estimates put more than half of all immigrants involved in deportation proceedings as detained at the start of proceedings. Only around 50 percent of detained immigrants receive a custody hearing with only around half of those obtaining release on bail, NYT reports.
While Trump policies make immigration courts a tempting area of business development for bond bail agents, the sector operates under vastly different paradigms than those of the state courts. For instance, the growing backlog of cases and proceedings can draw out for a number of years, which means bail bond agents in the sector operate on a longer time horizon than what’s typical in state courts. Additionally, transportation charges fall to bail bond agents when immigrants move for work or other reasons, or if a case transfers to a court in a different area or region. What’s more, immigrants facing the stress of a court proceeding– and the potentiality of deportation– could skip their hearings altogether.
Scott Berlin, the owner of Berlin Bail Bonds in Newark, is already making up for lost revenue from the new bail system law and turning to the six immigrant detention centers in New Jersey to make up the difference. Most of those Berlin has assisted in making bail has already retained a lawyer– an uncommon move among detained immigrants, but one that makes defendants less of a flight risk.
“I evaluate risk,” Berlin says. “I try to be a little compassionate, but I try to be very selective, too. I have to be, otherwise, I wouldn’t exist. I just wouldn’t make it.”