Good Behavior: The Abuse and Demise of a Preventative Justice Tool
80 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2015
Date Written: August 26, 2015
The bond for good behavior underwent a tumultuous history in New York, moving from a hybrid preventative/punishment tool to a largely punitive measure free of preventative uses over the course of the nineteenth century. In this paper, I document and attempt to explain the bond’s history from 1800-1910. I end by exploring the bond’s current, largely vestigial existence. This history aims to identify and explain these chapters in the bond’s history: the decline in its more traditional use in assault cases, and its rise and fall as a measure to detain defendants in cases of “disorder” en masse summarily.
By 1880, police courts issued ten percent of arrestees a bond for good behavior. Of these, ninety-three percent went to jail in default of the bond, without a trial for the offense committed. By the nineteen-teens, the bond was essentially defunct. My principal findings were as follows:
1. From the colonial era through the time of the Civil War, New York judges and magistrates regularly issued bonds for good behavior, often after conviction for assault at the request of the victim.
2. New York City court records show a steep drop in the use of the behavior bond in the beginning of the nineteenth century as part of sentencing for assault.
3. By mid-century, judges issued the bond to thousands of defendants charged with crimes of disorder, largely victimless offenses, sending them behind bars without a trial for default of that bond.
4. The bond then fell into disuse, and by the first decade of the twentieth century, it had become an object of curiosity or scorn.
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation