Rosie Imperiale answered a routine call from someone checking in as part of a bond agreement.
Imperiale, owner of Boardwalk Bail Bonds in Atlantic City, has been in the business for 17 years. But that could change soon.
A bail reform law set to take effect Jan. 1 will be a major overhaul to the criminal justice system. In most cases, alleged offenders will either be released on a court summons or kept in jail until their trials. Bail bond companies across the state are worried the new system could put them out of business.
“The reform is significantly going to affect my business, there’s no doubt about it,” she said, adding she plans to relocate from her Atlantic Avenue building to a smaller location sometime next year. “As I understand there are still going to be bail bonds out there, but they’re probably not good ones to do.”
Under the new system, Superior Courts can set bail for someone who fails to appear in court for a complaint summons.
Those arrested on a summons will be taken to a police station, booked, issued charges and released pending their court dates.
Those arrested on a complaint warrant will be taken to the county jail for as long as 48 hours until a decision is made on whether they will be kept or released. Bail could still be an option for these people if set by a judge, but that scenario is unlikely.
“The cream has come off the top. A lot of what we do is going to be gone,” said Carl Schulz, a bail bondsmen at AA Bail Bonds in Pleasantville. “A lot of us are wondering what’s going to happen to the business.”
Proponents of the change say it will help ease jail overcrowding and keep people charged with minor crimes from languishing in jail, among other benefits.
But they don’t set up well for the bail bond business.
People out on bond who skip court dates are bad for business because the court will turn to the bail bond company for the full bail, Imperiale said. If people who tend to skip court are the only people looking for bail bonds, the industry could sink quickly.
A big issue bail bond companies see with the reforms is the possibility of people skipping their court dates. Imperiale said the new law cuts out a layer of monitoring between the courts and the alleged offenders.
“We monitor them. We make them check in once a week and keep track of court dates,” she said.
Imperiale said her business makes someone co-sign the bond so that if the person skips court, she can legally go to that person for money.
Still, bondsmen throughout the state are holding out hope their businesses can conform to the new law. But it’s going to be a major adjustment, Schulz said.
“There’s always going to be crime, and there is always going to be some need for bonds,” he said. “It’s going to take a little bit of creativity … but we have to do our best to get the word out that we’re still here.”