When people are arrested and jailed there is usually a bail amount set by a judge, except in the cases of murder or small infractions.
Accused people can either pay the bail amount themselves, or pay a bail bondsman 10 percent of the bail, which is nonrefundable.
The bail bondsman is basically promising that you will show up for your court date, or the bail bondsman loses the entire amount of the bail to the court.
If you skip out on your court date, the bail bondsman will likely hire a bounty hunter, as in the popular "Dog the Bounty Hunter" who stars on his own A&E reality TV show.
According to CSMonitor.com, bounty hunters can detain people, make arrests, are not required to obtain a search warrant to come into a home or business, and do not have to get extradition papers from a court to take someone across state lines. They have more freedom than police officers, but with less training and regulation.
Mother Jones reports that one bail bondsman they spoke to "took was five days of classes ($400) and plus a firearms class ($150)" that "gave him the power to make arrests and use a gun on the job."
The bail industry makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year by cashing in on America's high arrest rate and jails. Critics say bail bondsmen were the first step of privatizing the U.S. justice system, which now includes privately-owned jails.
Interestingly, the U.S. is only one of two countries where people can make money off posting bail. The other is the Philippines.
In U.S. cities that don't have bail bondsmen, such as Washington D.C., more than 80 percent of defendants are released before trial and only 12 percent miss a court hearing.
Kentucky has banned bail bondsmen for 38 years and releases 74 percent of its defendants before trial. Only 6 percent do not show up for a court date.
In contrast, Dallas, Tx., has tons of bail bondsmen, but 26 percent of defendants don't show up for court.
Event though the numbers prove that people out on bail don't show up more often, the bail industry lobbies hard for not releasing defendants by spending millions of dollars on state and local politicians.
A group called "Safe Streets Colorado" put a measure on a ballot in Colorado in 2010 that would not have allowed judges to release defendants without bail unless they were first-time non-violent offenders.
Safe Streets Colorado marketed the measure as getting tough on crime by stopping "the government from releasing the most heinous to rape and pillage our communities," noted Mother Jones.
One of the biggest supporters of the measure, which failed, was Colorado State Sen. Vicki Marble, who just happened to own a bail bonds company.