From 1992 to 2006, the average bail amount for people who are detained more than doubled from $39,800 to $89,900. Bail in the United States has become so expensive that eight in ten people would have to pay over a full year’s wages just to make the average amount.

Of course, most people don’t have that kind of money lying around. This is where the commercial bail industry steps in. Loans from bondsmen allow pretrial defendants to stay out of jail, but with a catch: the bondsmen keep a nonrefundable fee of around ten percent, even if the defendant is found innocent.

There are better systems; in fact, the United States is one of only two countries that use commercial bail. But any changes would entail fighting the American Bail Coalition, a powerful lobbying group that spends millions of dollars fortifying the bail industry.


Our new Prison Profiteers video, produced in partnership with the ACLU and Beyond Bars, sheds light on the bail bondsmen, insurance companies and wealthy investors behind the skyrocketing cost of bail in the United States—and the devastating effect their lobbying has on prisoners and their families.


The commercial bail industry isn’t alone in profiting off mass incarceration. Visit our Prison Profiteers action page to learn about other profiteers and to find out how you can fight back.


The Nation’s Liliana Segura gives an overview of the massive scope of the crisis of companies profiting off mass incarceration: “With 2.3 million people incarcerated in the United States,” she writes, “prisons are big business.”