A Debt of Care: Commercial Bail and the Gendered Logic of Criminal Justice Predation


Poor women of color are subjugated to riskier or more costly terms such as higher premiums, more substantial collateral requirements, and stricter payment conditions when approved to be a cosigner.

Commercial bail extracts millions of dollars from justice-involved individuals and their families every year, but little research exists on the inner working and operational processes of the bail industry. Associate professor of sociology and law, Joshua Page, spent 18 months working as a bail bond agent in a large urban county to learn how the industry works and analyze how its gendered-based practices reflect and reinforce inequalities that draw women into the criminal legal system’s predatory operations. During his ethnographic research, Page noted that agents often pursued the women in the defendants’ lives to gather money, secure collateral, or cosign for bail bonds. The predation structure of the bail industry targets women with the requisite resources and feeling of obligation to transfer their wealth and places them in positions of debt.

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Key Findings:

  • Most defendants cannot afford the bail amount set by the court and depend on bail bond companies and their loved ones to get out of jail; commercial agents secure the release of over two million defendants annually.
  • Cosigners for bonds, typically family, romantic partners, or friends of a defendant, formally accept the financial and legal liability for the defendant making court appearances.
  • While 70 percent of the U.S. population, white men only account for 31 percent of the pretrial jail population; Black and Hispanic individuals make up 55.6 percent of the pretrial jail population.
  • Bail bond agents intentionally exploit women’s caring obligation to the defendant and fear of their wellbeing while incarcerated to bail them out or take on the financial and legal responsibilities as a cosigner.
Joshua Page, Victoria Piechowski, and Joe Soss
RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal Of The Social Sciences