Local bail bondsman defies negative TV stereotypes


See also “Taxpayers lose big in pretrial jail costs, justice advocates call for bail reform”

Many Americans who spend a lot of time in front of the TV have likely seen enough criminal dramas to believe they understand the process of what happens when the police arrest someone. This is understandable when one considers the sheer number of police-centered television shows that have played out on primetime TV for decades.

One of the most popular, the reality series, “Cops,” entered its 31st season last summer, billing itself as “the most authentic” reality show on television. But does all of this law enforcement-centric content really provide the average viewer with a true understanding of one of the most dramatic elements of the American justice system?

Christie Ellis is the owner of Breaking Bad Bail Bonds, a bail bond company with employees up and down the Wasatch Front. Her job is to guide suspects who find themselves confronted with navigating the criminal justice system.

Ellis or one of her employees is often the first person suspects are in contact with following their arrest, which is likely a stressful experience. She understands what it’s like to go through this process because she goes through it with these people.

Ellis became a bail bondsman when the opportunity to become licensed presented itself to her and her husband, and they decided to jump in. Eighteen years later, she’s built a formidable brand. She hasn’t always been so confident in her work, however.

“One of my first calls was a guy with a 6-week-old newborn and the mother was put in jail for not paying a seatbelt ticket,” Ellis recalled of her early days. “It was a cash-only bail, which meant I couldn’t help anyway. … I got my heart broken a lot, wanting to help everybody.”

For all of the tug-at-the-heartstring stories that have come her way, Ellis said some clients are prone to lie, which is why she goes through an extensive process of questioning with potential clients. The more honest they are with Ellis, the more she can help them.

Bondsmen can sometimes get a bad rap, based in part on media portrayals that present a characterization of bail bondsmen as greasy, loan-shark types with dark and cluttered offices. 

Ellis makes a point to keep her own office extremely tidy and comfortable. She knows she is dealing with people who may be at the most vulnerable point in their life. She sees helping them feel comfortable and at ease an important part of her job.

So what exactly does the process of getting arrested and posting a bail bond look like? Click through the slideshow below to see a series of slides detailing what happens after someone is booked into the system in Utah, according to Ellis.

Infographics by Jacob Walters

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