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Oregon shouldnt provide a haven for bail jumpers

Our Opinion

Oregon is an affordable place for criminals to do business. As we've reported before in these pages, people who are convicted of crimes rarely pay the restitution that is due to their victims. Now, we learn through Tribune reporter Peter Korn's recent articles on court bail procedures, that offenders who skip town after being arrested almost never forfeit any substantial amount of bail money either - and worse yet, no one even goes out to try to recapture them.

Oregon's lax attitude toward bail is due in part to the fact that it is one of only four states that don't allow bail bondsmen. We aren't arguing here that Oregon should invite bail bondsmen and bounty hunters back in - they come with their own sets of problems. We do believe. however, that public safety is harmed in multiple ways by a system that treats bail as funny money.

Someone arrested in Oregon is typically required to post 10 percent of his or her bail before being released pending trial. If that person doesn't show for the trial, he or she supposedly should forfeit the 10 percent plus the remaining 90 percent of bail.

What happens in the real world, though, is that offenders can skip bail without having to pay the 90 percent. Judges often forgive any collateral placed to guarantee the bail - and even dismiss the 10 percent - because those funds may have been posted by a relative who really can't afford to lose the money.

What all this adds up to is a huge debt owed the state of Oregon - a total of $81 million in uncollected bail. But what's even more disturbing is that no one makes a normal practice of going after either the money or the bail skippers. Some offenders from other states even take refuge in Oregon because they know bounty hunters cannot come after them here.

Authorities should keep in mind that, while they have their reasons for forgiving unpaid bond and allowing defendants to skip trial without consequence, it is the victims of crime who are left feeling that the system is broken.

With limited budgets available to local law enforcement, we're not sure what all the answers are. But we do know that public safety demands attention to this problem from both the state and local level. Law enforcement officers must be given better tools to go after both the bail skippers and the bail money.

Otherwise, offenders are allowed to escape with impunity - and that just emboldens them to commit additional crimes that further erode community safety.