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Once a bail agent, now a leader pushing for national pretrial justice

Helen Holton, the executive director of NOBCO.

Worth your time today: An interview with Helen Holton, the executive director of the National Organization of Black County Officials (NOBCO) over at the blog of the Pretrial Justice Institute.

As Policy Watch has reported, the national organization has been active in the movement for bail and pretrial justice reform that is also underway in North Carolina.

Holton brings a unique perspective to the issue. Before her 21 years on the Baltimore City Council, she was herself a bail agent.

As Holton tells it:

My father was an independent insurance broker and was attracted to the thrill of adventure in bail bonding, including the lucrative profits and incentives. I am my father’s oldest child; essentially his junior. I worked as a bail bondsperson to learn the family business while I was on the City Council. It started off by monitoring the phones at night. If a call came through, it was my responsibility to notify one of the bondspersons affiliated with the family business to go post the bond. Part of my training entailed learning to write and post bails as well. In taking calls, a question I often asked myself was, “Why does someone wait until 11, 12, 1 o’clock in the morning before calling the bondsperson?” If your loved one gets locked up at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, why would you wait until the middle of the night before calling for help?

It all tied together. If you’ve got to get that money together, you need time to gather your resources. You’re doing whatever you got to do to get your loved one out of jail. They’ve been accused, arrested, but not convicted. Just because they don’t have the money, especially for a nonviolent offense, why should they have to stay in jail? So there I found myself in the middle of the night, taking a distress call, because you finally got your 10 percent bail figured out.

After one particularly bad situation, I stopped writing bail. The whole process left a bad taste in my mouth. I didn’t like going to a grandmother’s house and having her sign over the deed to her home as a guarantee for bail. Knowing she could lose her home out of love in exchange for temporary freedom before trial seemed unjust and predatory.

Make the time to read the whole thing here.

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