Petty charges, princely profits

Source: Joseph Neff, The Marshall Project, July 13, 2018

… Brian Corbett has sewn up the bail bond trade in this largely rural corner of the nation’s poorest state, minting millions from people charged with minor offenses. Operating out of a Tupelo storefront behind the county jail complex, Corbett Bonding pocketed $2.6 million in fees over a recent span of 18 months — 46 percent on bonds of less than $5,000, the ceiling for most misdemeanors in the state. Brian Corbett, right, poses for a photo with Dog the Bounty Hunter. Corbett has 73 percent of the bail business in Lee County and 84 percent in neighboring Union County. (Photo: Marshall Project/USA Today Network) It was the highest take in Mississippi, according to a Marshall Project analysis of bonds tracked by the state Department of Insurance.

It is difficult to peer into the financial workings of the bail industry, where public sector services are performed by private companies largely shielded from scrutiny. New data collected by Mississippi and obtained by The Marshall Project offers a rare glimpse into how bail companies profit from the steady march of low-level offenders into county jails. Corbett Bonding is one of 193 bail companies in the state that over 18 months collectively took in $43 million — 36 percent from small bonds — in a state where the average annual income is under $22,000. … But this lucrative trade in petty charges may be coming to an end. A little-noticed but seismic change in state court rules last year — bolstered by lawsuits and a blunt-spoken state insurance commissioner — is making it easier for people charged with misdemeanors to leave jail earlier, or avoid it altogether, without securing a bond. It is a striking shift in a state that has long been one of the friendliest places in the nation for the bail bond industry. …