For the rest of the world, America’s bail bonds industry is a horrifying concept. Bail bondsmen are a private, commercial wing of the US justice system, putting up defendants’ bail in exchange for a non-refundable fee, the New York Times explains. To critics, the system is unfair and corrupt, forcing even innocent people to pay up. But it’s also extremely effective.
"Life is not fair," says a spokesman for a bail agents' trade group. "But the system is the best in world." Defendants obligated to bail bondsmen are more likely to show up in court; in the four states that have outlawed bail bonding, trial no-shows have skyrocketed. But one prosecutor calls the system "rife with corruption" because of incentives to set high bail amounts. (Read more justice system stories.)