Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney doesn't "think we need Dog the Bounty Hunter here in Wisconsin kicking down doors." But bail bondsmen and bounty hunters will soon be opening shop in Dane County, due to a provision (PDF) inserted into the Legislature's budget without public notice or debate.
Wisconsin's commercial bail bonding industry was outlawed in 1979, after rights violations and other abuses, recalls Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison). "We listened to a lot of horror stories about bondsmen ripping off clients and so forth," he says. "There was evidence of abuse so we got rid of it."
Adds Dane County Chief Judge C. William Foust, "It has not been a good thing in other states. It's a very unhealthy way of deciding who gets out of jail."
Foust, along with the state's nine other chief judges, sent a letter to Gov. Scott Walker imploring him to strike the provision from the bill. "Anytime you place profit-driven organizations in control of an individual's liberty, corruption must be a major concern," the judges wrote.
The specifics of how tightly bondsmen and bounty hunters will be regulated are unclear. Repeated calls to the Department of Licensing and Regulation went unanswered. What is known is that anyone with $1,000 can apply for a license. Bondsmen will also have arrest powers to bring bail jumpers back to court.
Typically, a criminal defendant will pay a bondsmen 10% of the bail amount set by a judge. The defendant is then free while awaiting trial.
Mahoney, who has spoken with sheriffs in states that allow commercial bail bonding, says the industry preys on society's most vulnerable. "We do a pretty good job of getting people out of jail on bail," he says.