Business booming for bail bondsmen after 'zero dollar bail' introduced

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Many bail bondsmen thought the emergency order that allows some inmates to get out of jail free would cripple their business.
But it's had the opposite effect.

At Lucky Bail Bonds in Downtown Fresno, owner Barry Pearlstein thought the zero bail rule throughout California may very well put him out of business.

But as the days pass, his phones are ringing more.

"Basically there have been a lot of bonds that have been reset on inmates who have been sitting in custody for quite a while, making their bonds more reasonable, and now they're reaching out to us for bail," says Pearlstein.

Fresno County sheriff's officials say the reason is simple. For inmates with several charges, if a few are reduced to zero bail, the bail amount on remaining charges is dropped - in many cases significantly.

"Zero dollar bail had an effect on getting that person out because it now made them able to afford to get out on the one they could post bond on," says Tony Botti of the Fresno County Sheriff's Office.

There's a lot to weigh before underwriting these types of bonds, especially when it comes to inmates who have been locked up for several years.

"I had a call the other day on a gentleman his bail was reduced $225,000 for assault with a firearm. He's been in custody since 2017," says Pearlstein.

Pearlstein decided to pass on the risky deal, because there wasn't enough collateral for the bond to guarantee it.

Many of the felony crimes where inmates are seeing reduced bails include physical assaults- things like domestic violence, rape and kidnapping.

Traditionally- many local bonds are written for drug charges, but now those are almost nonexistent.

Over the past 15 days, 230 inmates have bailed out of jail - most for serious violent felonies. Their charges will all remain. It's just the price of freedom that got a lot cheaper.

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