American Bail Coalition

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The American Bail Coalition (ABC) describes itself on its website as the "premier underwriters of criminal court appearance bonds." ABC has stated, "We have formed a national organization, primarily to perform a two-pronged task to educate local government on the benefits of commercial bail bonding and to advance the interests of the member companies' many retail agents."[1]

According to the American Bail Coalition website, in October 2013 the organization expanded its mission and "recast itself with the singular goal of developing a system of best practices to be adopted by state government that maximizes the pretrial release of criminal defendants, minimizes days between arrest and pretrial release of criminal defendants".[2]

The Coalition was formerly known as the National Association of Bail Surety Underwriters (NABSU), then the National Association of Bail Insurance Companies (NABIC), and became the American Bail Coalition in 2001.

ABC Members Control 60 Percent of $13.5 Billion Bail Bond Industry

A Mother Jones review of 2012 financial records for 32 surety companies revealed that American Bail Coalition members control 60 percent of bonds in the $13.5 billion industry. The May/June 2014 article describes how, upon its founding, the American Bail Coalition successfully lobbied to increase the prevalence of commercial bail and to increase bail amounts for felony cases.

"Before ABC began lobbying, in 1990, commercial bail accounted for just 23 percent of pretrial releases, while release on recognizance accounted for 40 percent. Today, only 23 percent of those let go before trial are released on recognizance, while 49 percent must purchase commercial bail. Since 1990, average bail amounts have almost tripled for felony cases. Between 2004 and 2012, revenues of the ABC companies whose income comes almost entirely from bail increased 21 percent."[3]

The article concludes that the potential for abuse in the commercial bail industry is major, and that in fact abuses do take place.[3]

For-Profit Bail Bonding Should Be Eliminated, Say Advocates

In September 2012, The Justice Policy Institute, a non-profit "working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system", released a report calling for the "elimination of for-profit bail bonding as part of [the] justice system."[4]

Key points in the report include the following:[5]

  • Bail amounts are increasing
  • Political influence keeps bail bondsmen in business
  • ALEC has been a driver of harmful bail legislation since 1994
  • By its very nature, for-profit bail is ripe for corruption and abuse
  • Alternatives to for-profit bail bonding exist and are effective

If For-Profit Bail Bondsmen "Make No Effort Whatsoever, They Still Profit"

NPR did a series on the bail system in January 2010.

"The regulation of bail bond agents varies widely across the country. Many states require bondsmen to be licensed. Generally, bond agents must undergo eight to 16 hours of training, submit to fingerprinting and a background check and be a resident of the state to receive a license. However, some states do not require bondsmen to be licensed. In Wyoming, for example, agents using their own capital are not required to be licensed." [6]

In a section on for-profit bail bondsmen in Lubbock, Texas:

Statistically, most bail jumpers are not caught by bondsmen or their bounty hunters. They're caught by sheriff's deputies, according to Beni Hemmeline from Lubbock's district attorney's office.

"More often than not, the defendants are rearrested on a warrant that's issued after they fail to appear," Hemmeline said. Asked if the bondsmen are fulfilling their end of the deal, Hemmeline says, "Well, it may be that [the bondsmen] can't find them. They can't camp at the door 24 hours a day. They do the best that they can, I think."

If a defendant does run, the bondsman is also supposed to pay the county the full cost of the bond as a sort of punishment for not keeping an eye on the client.

But that doesn't happen, either, Hemmeline says.

Hemmeline says Lubbock usually settles for a far lower amount than the full bond. In fact, according to the county treasurer in Lubbock, bondsmen usually only pay 5 percent of the bond when a client runs.

Consider that math for a minute. The bondsmen charge clients at least 10 percent. But if the client runs, they only have to pay the county 5 percent. Meaning if they make no effort whatsoever, they still profit.

Hemmeline says asking for more might put the bondsmen out of business.

"Bond companies serve an important purpose," she says.

NPR found bondsmen getting similar breaks in other states. In California, bondsmen owe counties $150 million that they should have had to pay when their clients failed to show up for court. In New Jersey, bondsmen owe $250,000 over the past four years. In Erie, Pa., officials stopped collecting money for a time because it was too much of a hassle to get the bonding companies to pay up."[6]

Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council

The American Bail Coalition has been a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) since 1993, and the Coalition refers to ALEC as its "life preserver." [7]

A list of ALEC Corporations can be found here.

About ALEC
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's, and check out breaking news on our site.

William Carmichael, former ABC President & CEO, and currently Treasurer of its Board of Directors, is Vice-Chair of ALEC's "Private Enterprise Advisory Council" as of July 2014.[8]

Dennis Bartlett, ABC Executive Director Emeritus and Research Director, has been an ALEC member since 1998, and was a member of the Public Safety and Elections Task Force before it was disbanded in 2012, sitting on the task force's Private Sector Executive Committee.[9]

Jerry Watson, Senior Legal Counsel for the American Bail Coalition, was ALEC's Private Enterprise Board Chairman from 2006-2008, and "actively participated on ALEC's Task Force on Criminal Justice and has undertaken several projects with the ALEC Foundation, including the publication of Evidence of a Failed System: A Study of the Performance of Pretrial Release Agencies in California." [10] He was awarded ALEC's Leadership Award in 2010 "for his commitment to the private sector in the war on crime and his tireless and generous contributions to ALEC and its members," and previously received other ALEC awards, including the Thomas Jefferson Freedom Award. [10]

ALEC and ABC's Legislative Agenda

From an October, 2010 ABC Newsletter: "Within two years of joining ALEC, a member of the ABC board, Jerry Watson, was invited in 1995 to join the ALEC private enterprise board where he would ultimately become Chairman. Watson served until August 2010 when he stepped down to become Chairman Emeritus of the private enterprise board. Another ABC member, Bill Carmichael, was appointed to the ALEC private enterprise board. During its two decade involvement with ALEC, ABC has written 12 model bills fortifying the commercial bail industry. In addition to the model bills ALEC has issued ABC sponsored State Factors, Legislative Briefs, and studies related to the bail issue. The major reason behind this focus was to offset the threat posed to commercial bail." [7]

According to January, 2010 NPR report, "Some states ban commercial bail bondsmen outright and have the state's court act as the bail bond business. But in others, the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization backed in part by the bail bond lobby, has worked to pass the Citizen's Right To Know Act, a law that requires reformatting and increased reporting of pretrial release information and encourages the use of commercial bail bondsmen." [6]

Citizen's Right To Know Act:
Enacted: Florida (2009), Texas (1995)
Enrolled (in legislature): Iowa (2009), North Carolina (2009), Tennessee (2009)
Failed: Virginia (2009)
States that ban commercial bail bondsmen: Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, Wisconsin [6]

According to a June 2011 news release, the ABC- and ALEC-penned "Citizen's Right to Know Act" has gone national. On June 3, 2011, "the American Bail Coalition. . . called on Congress to pass HR 1885, the Citizens Right to Know Act, introduced by Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK)."[11]

Other ALEC Activities

Jerry Watson, General Counsel for the American Bail Coalition addressed the Annual Meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council in Philadelphia, PA, July 25 - 27, 2007.

Jerry Watson Addresses ALEC Annual Meeting 2007


In 2010, ABC spent $80,000 on lobbying.[12] They worked with the lobbying firm Fidelis Government Relations.

Christine M. Frahm has been a lobbyist in California for ABC since 2005.[13]

In 2010, ABC spent $80,000 on lobbying on the federal level.[14] They worked with the lobbying firm, Fidelis Government Relations.

Regional Trade Groups Affiliated with ABC

As of 2011[15] (no longer listed on website as of July 2014):



  • Total Revenue - $365,000
  • Reported Compensation for Dennis A. Bartlett (Executive Director Emeritus & Research Director) - $143,000


As of July 2014:[17]

  • Nicholas J. Wachinski, Esquire - Executive Director
  • Dennis A. Bartlett - Executive Director Emeritus & Research Director

Board of Directors

As of October 2013:[16]

  • William Carmichael, Treasurer
  • Brian Nairin
  • Robert Sabo
  • John Schneider
  • Brian Frank
  • Scott Willis
  • Jeff Kirkpatrick
  • Les Sebring


American Bail Coalition
235 N. Duke St.
Lancaster, PA 17602
Phone: (855) 718-3006

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles

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  1. American Bail Coalition, "Introduction ABC," organizational website, accessed June 2011.
  2. American Bail Coalition, About Us, organizational website, accessed July 2014.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Shane Bauer, Inside the Wild, Shadowy, and Highly Lucrative Bail Industry, "Mother Jones", May/June 2014 Issue.
  4. Justice Policy Institute, Release: The Bail Bond Industry is For Profit, But Not For Good, organizational press release, September 18, 2012.
  5. Justice Policy Institute, For Better or for Profit: How the Bail Bonding Industry Stands in the Way of Fair and Effective Pretrial Justice, September 2012.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Laura Sullivan, Bail Burden Keeps US Jails Stuffed With Inmates, National Public Radio, January 21, 2010, accessed July 8, 2011
  7. 7.0 7.1 American Bail Coalition, October Newsletter (pdf), organizational newsletter, October 2010.
  8. American Legislative Exchange Council, "Private Enterprise Advisory Council," organizational website, accessed July 2014.
  9. American Legislative Exchange Council, Private Sector Executive Committee, organizational website, accessed June 2, 2011.
  10. 10.0 10.1 PRWeb, Bail Bond Industry Leader, Jerry Watson, Honored by National Legislative Organization,, Aug. 27, 2010, accessed July 8, 2011
  11. PRNewsWire, End the Abuse: Federal Tax Payer Funded Bail Program a Mess, News release, June 3, 2011
  12. Center for Responsive Politics, "Annual Lobbying of ABC,, online database, accessed May, 2011
  13. Christine Frahm Bio,"Follow the Money" database
  14. Annual Lobbying of ABC,Open, accessed July 11, 2011
  15. American Bail Coalition Associations, organizational website for the American Bail Coalition, accessed July 9, 2011.
  16. 16.0 16.1 American Bail Coalition, 2012 IRS Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, October 30, 2013.
  17. American Bail Coalition, Staff, organizational website, accessed July 2014.