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OBA President Discusses OR Bonds with Journal Record

OBA president, Raymond Merrill, recently shared some insight into the use of Own Recognizance (OR) bonds with The Journal Record. As a part of his guest column, he discussed the issues and considerations that should be weighed before choosing OR bonds as an alternative for pre-trial release. Read his full guest column below or see it on The Journal Record’s website here.

There is a growing conversation happening in Oklahoma centered around criminal justice reform efforts.

Many options are currently being discussed by community leaders, state legislators and the general public surrounding pre-trial release for defendants, specifically Own Recognizance (OR) bonds. Through an OR bond, a criminal suspect is arrested, booked and granted release on their “own recognizance” after promising, in writing, that they will appear in court and for any upcoming proceedings. These defendants do not pay bail money to the court nor post bond, thus leaving them with no fiscal responsibility to reappear in court for the crimes of which they are accused.

There are special circumstances that may warrant the use of an OR bond; however, overuse of this alternative could have a disastrous effect on the judicial system, negative ramifications on victims of crime and, ultimately, increased costs to taxpayers. 

In October, approximately 34 percent of those released on an OR bond in Oklahoma County did not return to court. In comparison, only three percent of those released by posting bail through a bondsman failed to appear. This stark difference is due to the diligence and responsibility of bondsmen to ensure defendants have their day in court and justice is administered. Additionally, bondsmen operate as a private business, meaning their services are rendered at no cost to Oklahoma taxpayers. The lack of financial obligation for the accused to reappear for court places any monetary responsibility for their apprehension onto taxpayers.

Although OR bonds have a place in the criminal justice process, utilizing this as a common tool for pre-trial release could have a devastating impact on our communities by increasing the risk for repeat offenders and higher crime rates. While OR bonds provides a short-term effect of reducing the overall jail population, this benefit will be offset by the long-term frustration our law enforcement community is sure to experience when they’re forced to arrest the same perpetrators over and over again.

Oklahomans are seeking alternatives to help the state’s criminal justice system run more efficiently, but this type of pre-trial release should be carefully exercised, with full understanding of its risks, before overuse causes irreparable damage to public safety and diminishes victims’ rights.

Raymond Merrill, President of the Oklahoma Bondsman Association