Bail bondswoman talks ins and outs of getting out once you’re in

Allison Palais, center, with Nicole Daw, left, and Erika West, right. (photo by Nicole Terpening)

Say you have yourself a rough night and find yourself on the wrong side of jail cell door.  What next? The answer — especially if you’re short of the cash the judge says you need to pony up before you can run free — often involves a bail bond.

If the name Allison’s Bail Bonds rings a bell, it might be because you saw billboard showing several beautiful staffers surrounding the attractive Allison Palais. Or perhaps you have driven behind Palais’ Jeep, bearing her business’ name and logo on the spare tire. Or her four window fronts in various cities. Or the Kingston Citibus.

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Palais is a recommended source of knowledge on bail, she has been taking calls from folks seeking bail bonds since 2003, and has opened offices touting her eponymous pride in Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh and the Bronx. Her job is pretty simple: She promises the authorities that if they let a suspect out on bail and the suspect then tries to pull a disappearing act, she’ll pay the bail — and then hold the people who took out the bond liable to pay her what she paid to the court. In exchange for that promise, the suspect or the suspect’s loved ones pay her a state-set fraction of the bail by the judge and maybe allow a lien to be put on their property.

How does one go from jailbird to free bird? Sgt. David Farrell of Ulster County Sheriff’s Office works in the Ulster County Jail’s intake department. He said they see an average of about six new inmates a day. Farrell explained that the arresting officer brings the prisoner straight to the courthouse where a judge arraigns them; only after that occurs, they are sent to the jail. (Farrell said one of the few exceptions in Ulster County is Kingston Police Department, where they have a holding cell to keep people overnight if must be.) When folks go in front of a judge for the arraignment, the judge can set bail, or bond or release the suspect on an appearance ticket for court.

Farrell explained all new inmates are searched for contraband prior to entry. They’re then booked into the computer system with all their “pedigree information” — address, height and weight and medical concerns. Next comes a suicide screening, then photos and fingerprinting. It all takes about an hour, during which new “guests” see a nurse for a medical assessment.

If that doesn’t make last night’s events start to feel regretful enough, then everyone who comes into the facility changes from civilian clothes into the jail uniform, the classic orange jumpsuit.  If their bail hasn’t yet arrived, they are sent upstairs to the classification housing unit.

If the bail bondsman is speedy, or a loved one provides the bail money right away, then a person might not ever see the inside of a cell. “We have people show up here to bail a person out and they have not even shown up yet,” said Farrell. “We treat everyone the same, whether their bail is waiting in the parking lot or if they are going to be sitting here for the next three years.”

If not through a bondsman, Ulster County Jail accepts bail in cash, certified bank check, postal money order or a credit card. Farrell said they deal with about five or six different bail bondsmen who are as far-flung from Golden Hill as Westchester County, but Allison’s Bail Bonds is the most local and therefore the most frequent.

 

A bond is born

Palais said she gets the call seeking her help either from the incarcerated or the family and friends of the incarcerated. Either Palais or one of her employees start an intake for information and gather phone numbers of family members who might possibly pay toward the bail. The calls always go directly to Palais’ personal cell, or they are rolled over to staff in one of the storefronts. Allison’s covers all of New York State, and the workers are often driving around the state.

Allison’s Bail Bonds can take a credit card over the phone for a cash bail. “We have to call out to a judge and see if a judge is available to sign our bond or release order, and that’s the only way a person can get out is with that signature,” said Palais. Sometimes this means getting a hold of a judge in the middle of the night, or the weekend. Palais said it’s all about a judge’s availability, as she physically meets with the judge to get the release order signed. Then Palais delivers the release order to the jail, and then the cell door opens.

“Usually the judges are pretty good,” said Palais, noting that it can be a little slower on weekends and holidays. “I can often get it within an hour or two.”

 

Pay up, Johnny!

But one does not get bail-bonded just like that — people need to be willing to sign on the dotted line.

Allison’s Bail Bonds staffer Nicole Daw said a person taking out a bond comes in, fills out documents, shows proof of income, ID, pay stubs, a deed if they own a home. The business takes a percentage of the bond amount, paid by the person taking out the bond, based on a state-established fee schedule.

If the person applying does not meet the fiscal criteria, then they look for more signers who do. The signer or signers is held responsible for the bond amount if the defendant runs away, skips or otherwise jumps bail. The bailed-out must check in weekly with Allison through an app or a phone call, and report their next court date.

Palais herself ultimately decides who qualifies to sign on a bond, on a case-by-case basis.

Farrell said about five to 10 people a year from the Ulster jail are charged with “bail-jumping” — not showing up for a court. “If they live local, they are less likely to skip their court date,” said Daw.

Daw said few intentionally jump bail; it’s more a matter of forgetting their rendezvous with the judge. If he or she turns him or herself in a timely fashion, the judge will not forfeit the bond. “We don’t really have forfeitures, everyone is pretty good at doing what they need to do,” said Palais.

However in the event everyone is not, Palais is able to take the law into her own hands. As a licensed bail agent, Palais has the legal authority to retrieve a wandering sheep. “I have picked people up who are compliant, but I am not going to go wrestle somebody,” said Palais. She said a bounty hunter gets 10 percent of the bond if she must hire them to go pick someone up, so she takes it from the bond’s signer. Palais said she does not often have to hire a bounty hunter, but every now and then it comes to that. Bounty hunters are usually retired cops, licensed private investigators, who are retired cops, said Palais. A judge can place a warrant on a person who has not shown up, and order the bond be forfeited.

Palais said the police are very good to work with as well, since they too are invested in keeping bail-skippers off the street.

Once the case is over, the bond is automatically exonerated. Either through a conviction or dismissal, liability ends.

 

Type A

How did Palais first get into bailing folks out of their troubles? “I knew a guy.” Said she, “He trained me, trained me in Brooklyn, the Bronx and I went out on my own after three years. Since 2003, I got my license. Formed Allison’s Bail Bonds in 2005; first storefront was in Rockland County, New City.” Prior, Palais owned her own coupon magazine in Putnam County, and still does. It’s easy enough to say that Palais has a “rough exterior” or a “thick skin,” and even made fun of it, describing herself as “a woman with an iron rod if you even think of looking funny at me.”

Palais attributes her “Type A” and “overachiever” personality to her ability to thrive as a woman in a field that would intimidate most men. “Most men realize as soon as they are in my presence that I am ‘real.’ They usually get a lecture from me when they come into my office about their conduct. They sort of respect that; it’s like getting the lecture from their mom. They know I am not going to lead them down the wrong path, and that I will always be real with them about their present situation,” she said. “Most defendants, not all, are in the place that they’re at because of a lack of parental strength.”

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What is everyone getting in trouble for around here? And how does it differ from Newburgh and Poughkeepsie?

Palais said the majority of the crimes for which she is writing bonds are drunken driving, drug possession and criminal contempt — violations of orders of protection. “Boyfriends or girlfriends are calling the police on each other, and then crying to bail bonds[persons] to bail him or her out,” said Palais. “I have denied bonds to women calling me crying who say they want to bail their boyfriend out who just hit them. I convince them to leave them. I say, ‘Leave their ass. Now. Run.”

Newburgh has fewer DWI’s, Palais and Daw said, but more assaults, drugs and robberies. Poughkeepsie sees a lot of drug possession, but also gun possession as well. Her Middletown office gets a lot of petit and grand larceny.

 

The good and the bad 

“I love what I do,” said Daw, who lights up whenever she talks about her work. “I feel it matters to people and nothing is more rewarding than reuniting families one bond at a time.” Palais and Daw were both pretty tight-lipped when this reporter asked for (OK, fine, begged for) interesting, scary, crazy or fun stories that might stick out for them. Confidentiality was cited.

For the most part, they said. People are relieved for the help, but not everyone is gushing with gratitude. “Once in a blue moon, we get negative people,” said Daw. “But I am like, ‘Look, we did not put you in this position, but I am here to help.’ Most of them are pretty grateful, ’cause they are lost. I get criers, and my heart goes out to them, I wanna cry with them sometimes.”

“They think we have control over the bond, and every aspect of getting the inmate released,” said Palais, emphasizing that she gets right down to business. “They don’t realize what we need to do to make that happen. I am right to the point. They don’t need me to cry with them, they need me to work with them.”