"Get your bond guarantee here. Don't wait in jail," reads an old-fashioned script on a sign in the yard.
An unacceptable tan building with green and burnished orange accents sits on a small hill before prison. There is no way to miss Lederman Bail Bonds on the way to or from the Correctional Facility.
This is a family business – run by four brothers who have operations in Iowa and the rest of the Midwest. But behind the familiar window of passage through which it is created, stands a well-funded political force with a program to stop the prison at the bottom of the hill from making any changes to the guarantee system that keeps their profits rolling.
Across the States, bond guarantee companies such as those owned by Ledermans are in rebellion, fighting the efforts of states to rethink and repair their anti-money guarantee system.
Corrections by officials, prisoners, judges, public defenders, civil rights groups and bipartisan leaders agree that the existing system that handles alleged innocents is broken.
As structured, the bond industry survives to a large extent from those who do not have the financial resources to opt out. Excessive bail service is their only way out of prison. Bond guarantee companies make money by charging a fee ̵
Those who cannot afford the 10% bond company fees can set up a payment plan, usually in small installments like $ 100 a week, until the big bill is paid. Contracts like those of vulnerable families with debts that can last for years – get them in court for missed payments, cumulated wages and interest. Experts say defendants will sometimes plead guilty to lower charges, even if they are innocent, to escape the bail system and get out of jail sooner.
The more affluent defendants who can afford to post bonds with their own money, go release and take the money back, provided they appear for their court dates.
Reform efforts throughout the country seek to make the guarantee system less burdensome for the poor. The majority of states dealing with the problem seek to make a financial guarantee as a last resort, obliging judges to apply the "most severe conditions of release" and to take into account the defendant's ability to pay, as well as eliminating low-level cash guarantee. As a result, the $ 2 billion bond industry is struggling to survive on its own.
A CNN review for all 50 states and the District of Columbia found that the powerful industry had derailed, stalled, or killed reform efforts in at least nine states that united more than one-third of the country's population.
To date, more than 25 states have enacted laws or adopted changes that relate to warranty practices, while several are still awaiting audit committee assurance efforts or procedure.
The history of bail reform is as messy as it is labor intensive. This is a long way of continuous push and pull between stakeholders. Even among the reformers, there are disagreements about how best to do it. A popular remedy uses some computerized risk assessment tool that assesses a person's likelihood of appearing in court based on criteria such as age, past court failure and criminal convictions. However, some scholars and civic activists, including the ACLU, have opposed such instruments, claiming that they are insufficient and often racially biased.
Whether trying to make quick or modest changes, lawmakers describe the involvement of the bail industry as nasty and controversial  Jeff Clayton, executive director of the Bail Coalition, said the process was tense on both sides and that his industry is unfairly called predatory.
"We don't arrest people," Clayton said. "We make no guarantees. And if people want to use our services, we think this is an extension of their constitutional right to do so." Clayton adds that although his group "participated in public policy discussions on security reform" in the nine countries outlined by CNN, "we definitely had a significant impact", but "I don't think we were the driving force."
Last year, California lawmakers passed the most extensive legislation ever – terminating the monetary guarantee completely. But shortly after the bill was passed, the bond industry and the underwriting companies raised more than $ 3 million to fund a referendum that put everything in hold. Efforts have been successful and voters will resolve the issue by voting in November 2020.
The same is happening nationwide.
For example, in Texas, there was jealousy after reforms following the death of Sandra from Bland Prison, who was arrested for allegedly assaulting an employee during a traffic stop in July 2015 for not using a turn signal. Her family worked to secure a 10% fee to hire a bond officer on $ 5,000 bail, but three days after her arrest, she was found hanging in her cell. If Bland was able to afford the bond, reformers say, she would not be in jail for three days alone.
Texas tried to pass reforms in the 2017 session, but the lobbying efforts in the warranty industry helped prevent the measure from progressing, according to a committee member. This past session, despite the broader support and strong initiative of the governor, reform on bail has perished once again, as the bill passed by the House was never entered on the Senate committee calendar.
Most lawmakers continue the reform on bail because of the consequences that come with pricing one's freedom, especially if that person is bad.
County jails are overflowing with people waiting to have a day in court. They go far beyond those serving real sentences for crimes.
Schriez Fano Burdyen, head of the Judicial Justice Institute, an organization that has been fighting reform for more than four decades, equates the guarantee system to ransom. And for those who can't pay, she thinks, the fee to stay in jail until trial can be devastating. They may lose their jobs, which in turn may mean that rent will not be paid, families will not be fed, etc. This is especially troubling for people accused of nonviolence or relatively minor crimes, she added.
"Low-risk people who cannot afford to post bonds spend days, weeks, months in jail until their case is pronounced or their case is actually dropped," Burdy said. "This has a dramatic impact on people."
Alice Hughes' experience with the bond business meant she had to get out of retirement and find a job.
It began with a phone call from her nephew, who was arrested on drug charges and violated a protective order and wanted her to help him get out of Baltimore prison. His bond was $ 75,000. Hughes said she did what anyone in her position did. She took all the money she had, $ 700, and brought it to the bond-shop. The money did not come close to $ 7500 to get his nephew out. So she signed the signed documents to create a payment plan for the others.
"I usually check things before I do them. I read everything," Hughes told CNN, "but in this case, everything I thought about took him out."
Hughes's nephew got out and was released on bail. , but failed to handle payments to the bond company. Before Hughes knew it, the company followed.
And debt continued to increase.
Her two-month salary from the retirement community in which she works has $ 131 taken from her and provided to this bond company. Because of the accrued interest, she said, she would never be able to pay it back. She owed $ 8,690 at the time of the judgment. Hughes' lawyer filed a motion to terminate the headset and it is part of an alleged class action lawsuit alleging that the warranty company operated without a license. The parent company said she had obtained a license but was operating an unlicensed business. The court rejected two applications for dismissal.
The highest court in Maryland passed a rule in 2017 that required judges to consider the ability of defendants to pay for their release, among other aspects. But the change came too late for Hughes and her nephew, who was arrested in 2014.
It may take years to fully measure the effectiveness of reforms. But surveys in several counties show that their efforts to overhaul the guarantee system have been successful in achieving two main goals: making sure people show up for their court dates and reducing the recidivism rate.
In Spokane County, Washington, the state auditor's report found that "defendants released on pre-trial services are much more likely to appear in their court hearings than those released on bail."
Lucas, Ohio, saw a 50% reduction in recidivism for felony charges, according to a report from the National Association of Counties.
Results and practices such as these have prompted lawmakers to seek reform nationwide. In a handful of states such as Montana and New Hampshire, officials say they have not been hit hard by the industry for guarantees of change. Seven states and the District of Columbia do not have a private warranty industry. Instead, they have a combination of options, such as allowing defendants to pay 10% of their total bond directly to court, as they would through a private bond. But for almost every other reform country, the measures are being challenged by the bond industry and its lobbyists.
That was the case in Iowa. And a good deal of resistance to the reform measures there can be traced back to the hilltop owners with a bond guarantee
At the Lederman Bail Court in Davenport, Iowa, justice officials launched a pilot program last year to ease the burden of bail on the poor.
Under the program, judges in four counties use a computerized risk assessment tool called "Public Safety Assessment" to determine a person's risk of failing to appear in court or repeat a sentence if released.
The tool analyzes nine risk factors, including age, past criminal convictions and previous omissions to appear, Judges then receive a risk assessment of the defendant to determine whether he or she should be released from confession, have some level of supervision, or to require a bond.
The pilot program threatens the profits of Lederman's warranty and family business. And Josh Lederman thought about doing something about it.
Josh Lederman, one of the owners of Lederman Bail Bonds, began attending the Department of Corrections' monthly public meetings where he questioned the merits of the pilot program.
In doing so, he opened his wallet, giving over $ 36,000 to Republicans, mostly those who run for the Iowa Legislature, donated more in a year than in the last 15 years combined. Some of the candidates have run in opposition to their competitions.
But his biggest investment began in 2017, ahead of the 2018 legislative session, when he began rejecting about $ 74,000 so far to hire a powerful lobbying firm in Des Moines.
Lederman's lobbying efforts acted according to officials in the state justice system and members of the Democratic state.
At the end of last year's legislative session, the program termination language was included in the Justice Budget Bill, which was passed, killing the bail reform.
This came as a shock to many, including Democratic lawmakers, who fought against the language of the murder program.
"It was an unusual piece of legislation enshrined in a budget bill," the Iowa State said. Tony Bissignano.
Another Democrat said it was all about money. "Lederman Bail Bonds didn't like the program because there were defendants coming out of jail without having to post any kind of bond," said State Rep. Rick Olson. "They're losing business."
When the bill landed on Gov. Kim Reynolds' desk, she used the veto line to extend the program to last until December 31 last year, when it eventually ended.
Lederman Bail Bonds did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
At this session, the Legislature was able to address the future of the pilot program. But the same language prohibiting the use of the PSA was included in the same budget bill and the program was formally closed.
CNN has spoken with over a dozen Iowa officials – judges, corrections officers, public defenders and legislators who have backed bail reform efforts and are now trying to find the next step in bail reform in their state
, from the Judicial Justice Institute, believes that despite the efforts of the bail industry, there is a change in the bail system. "I think there is a real need to wake up to fundamental justice," she said.
Audrey Ash of CNN participated in the reporting.