Friday, September 25, 2009

Citizen Input on Pretrial Release Program Ignored

County Commissioners passed a $3.1 B budget last night, which includes over $148 M for the Corrections Department. The Pretrial Release program was held harmless despite input from thousands of citizens based on a mailer sent by Accredited stating that they do not want their tax funds spent to release and supervise defendants charged with serious offenses.

Several speakers from the private surety bail industry were in attendance to try to educate the Mayor and Commissioners on the differences between the Pretrial Release program and the level of supervision bail agents provide at no taxpayer expense . . . but our comments were in vain. Despite the serious offenses defendants are being released on without any judicial involvement, the Mayor and Commissioners simply took the advice from county attorney Tom Drage, who stated the county is, "following the law and doing the best they can; to do otherwise would be in violation of the constitution, statute and the administrative order issued by Judge Perry."

While Judge Perry's administrative order has a provision to delegate judicial authority to the jail chief to release individuals from jail, the Mayor and Board of County Commissioners are CHOOSING to use your taxpayer funds to do so. They have the option of telling Judge Perry that limited taxpayer funds should only be used to do a thorough investigative process into a defendant's background for a meaningful initial appearance.

If the Judges wish to then release defendants charged with serious offenses on non-monetary conditions, then they have the judicial discretion to release those defendants on their own recognizance. No where in statute does it state taxpayer funds have to be used to release defendants on non-monetary conditions!

It is not a provision of the law but a public policy decision to use taxpayer funds to supervise defendants released from jail. The Orange County jail is not overcrowded! It is running at 90 percent occupancy yet the public policy decision is still to use taxpayer funds for this purpose.

At Tuesday's Board of County Commissioners meeting, an addendum agenda item was added for the jail to make a presentation on the Pretrial Release program. Yet at last night's public hearing the Mayor was somewhat irritated that the private surety bail industry was in attendance to speak on an issue that, "had already been discussed at length." However, that was a one-sided discussion without the industry afforded the opportunity to comment. The Mayor's comment set the stage, at least from his perspective, that anything we had to say was mute. Based on statistics given by the jail, the Mayor's opinion is that the private surety bail industry is, "fighting for a little sliver of seven percent of defendant's released through the pretrial release program," and pretty much wasting the board's time expressing our views.

Thanks to Commissioner Fernandez who recommended that the Pretrial Release program undergo an independent audit. Let's see how long that takes to happen!

Speech to County Commissioners on September 24, 2009 Regarding Budget

Good evening Mayor, Commissioners, Comptroller Haynie and Mr. Lalchandani:

My name is Melanie Ledgerwood representing Accredited Surety and Casualty Company. I am here this evening to strongly encourage you to follow through on a review of the Pretrial Release program at the Orange County jail and the amount of taxpayer funds being used to release and supervise defendants charged with serious offenses.

Each of you received a hand delivered packet on August 17 detailing the private surety industry's concerns about the types of offenses people were being released on without any judicial involvement. These are the offenses that Commissioner Brummer and Commissioner Fernandez expressed concern about. Individuals have been released through the Pretrial Release program for such offenses as DUI, possession of and carrying a concealed firearm/weapon, possession of short-barreled gun, rifle, machine gun, grand theft 3rd degree, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon, battery, assault on law enforcement, prostitution, burglary, forgery, theft, possession and armed possession of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and controlled substances with intent to sell/deliver, exposing sexual organs, lewd and lascivious behavior, throwing a deadly missile at/into an occupied vehicle and numerous driving-related offenses including habitual offenders with license revoked or no valid driver's license. Despite our concern over these types of offenses, we continue to hear the private surety bail industry is being untruthful and that we only care about making more money.

In front of me is just a sampling of responses from concerned citizens stating that they do not want their tax dollars spent to release and supervise defendants charged with these types of crimes. The private surety bail industry is not just about ensuring a defendant appears at court but also about protecting public safety. Bail agents provide a much higher level of supervision than the Pretrial Release program, which stated Tuesday that most defendants choose the automated telephone check-in system as their preferred method of supervision. Defendants released on bail have face-to-face contact with their agents, visits to a defendant's home or place of employment, live telephone conversations and not to an automated system and interaction with a defendant's family to ensure all conditions of bond are being met and to avoid any new law violations.

Community supervision is critical for a defendant to successfully complete their case and the private surety bail industry has a proven track record of providing such supervision at no cost to the taxpayer. An 84 percent success rate for the Pretrial Release program is also a 16 percent failure rate, which we don't deem to be "pretty successful" as the taxpayers pay for such failure in the end. In addition, the 84 percent success rate is artificially inflated as many defendants are also on a bail bond and it is the bail agent that ensures success.

Using taxpayer funds to release and supervise defendants charged with serious offenses, whether or not such releases are in accordance with an administrative order issued by Judge Perry, is a public policy decision this board must make. However your constituents have stated that they do not want their tax dollars spent in such fashion. Bail agents live and work in our community and we care about those individuals who CHOOSE to commit crimes and are then released back into the community. Public policy affects public safety!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Commissioners' Views on the Pretrial Release Program at the Orange County Jail

In a response to a mailer sent by Accredited to citizens educating them on the type of offenses individuals are being released on through the Pretrial Release program without ever seeing a Judge, the Board of County Commissioners hastily added an addendum to this past meeting's agenda, which wasn't published on the on-line public agenda, for the Corrections Department to make a presentation on the Pretrial Release program.

Statutory authority was discussed for the program, the "process" for screeing defendants and how defendants are supervised. I found it interesting that the manager of the program stressed the level of supervision given to defendants yet said that, "most defendants choose the automated telephone call-in system as their preferred method of supervision." That's really keeping an eye on those defendants!

Kudos to Commissioners Brummer and Fernandez for stating their concerns regarding the types of offenses individuals are being released on. However the other Commissioners either said nothing one way or another regarding the program or stated that they were, "relatively comfortable" with how the program currently operates!

The issue is not just that our tax dollars are being spent on a program that says it is doing its, "statutorily mandated purpose" by allowing the release of defendants on non-monetary means, but about people being released on serious offenses, which are not low-level or non-violent by any means.

If you feel an appropriate level of supervision for someone charged with carrying/possessing a concealed firearm/weapon, armed possession of drugs, grand theft, DUI, burglary, aggravated assault, battery etc. is to call in once or twice a week to automated telephone system, then do nothing. However, if you want such individuals adequately supervised by a licensed bail agent who is financially and physically responsible for that defendant, then attend the public hearing this evening at 6:00 at the Board of County Commissioner's chambers and let your Commissioners know how you feel.

Individuals who CHOOSE to commit crimes should be held accountable for their behavior!

Orange County Public Hearing on the Budget

According to the Office of Management and Budget for Orange County, the proposed pretrial services budget for fiscal year 2009-2010 is $1,699,895 and is rolling under Corrections Administration. This is the program that allows "administrative" release by Jail staff to release and supervise defendants charged with serious offenses.

Yet the Corrections Department made a presentation at this past Tuesday's Board of County Commissioners meeting and stated that the pretrial services budget, which is charged with screeing and investigating defendants for first appearance is only $35,000 annually; the supervision piece is housed under a completely different division, Community Corrections, and that budget is only $385,000 annually. That is a difference of $1,279,895!! Who is telling the whole story here?? What is the additional $1,279,895 being spent on pertaining to pretrial services?

These are your tax dollars being spent on a program that releases defendants charged with serious offenses who often never see a Judge for their release.

Let your voice be heard at tonight's public hearing on the budget and tell your elected officials you don't want your tax dollars spent to release individuals who choose to commit criminal offenses!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cease and Desist Order from Orange County Government

Accredited paid for a mailer to be sent to county citizens to educate them on the $1.7 M dollars currently allocated to fund the pretrial services/release program at the Orange County jail. Several prior attempts had been made to encourage all County Commissioners, the Mayor and other county executives to have dialog with Accredited to discuss our concerns regarding the amount of tax dollars being used to release and supervise defendants charged with serious offenses who never see a judge for their release.

With the exception of Commissioner Mildred Fernandez, no other Commissioner or county leader publicly expressed any concern whatsoever regarding the use of taxpayer funds to release criminals from jail vs. letting the private surety bail industry do its job using no taxpayer funds. So we felt it necessary to educate the citizens on how their limited tax dollars were being spent. The response from outraged citizens has been tremendous.

So what do you think the reaction from Orange County has been? Well, we received a Cease and Desist order from the County Attorney's office stating that, "it had come to their attention that we had made an unauthorized use of the Orange County Government logo in a recent publication and the publication appears to urge individuals to petition against the county's funding of a pretrial release program." The order stated that we must immediately cease use of the logo per a 1997 Orange County code and that the county requires the destruction of all unused and undistributed copies of the publication. Finally, if we do not fully comply with this order, "the county will take appropriate action to enforce it's rights."

Not a sentence said regarding the issue of $1.7 M of your tax dollars being used to fund the pretrial release program to release defendants charged with serious offenses. In other words, the county was more concerned that we misused, in their opinion, the Orange County logo in a publication that they did not want distributed. Yet all of the county logos are on the county's website for anyone to download; are they saying they want to "approve" the use of every instance in which one of the logos will be used or are they "selectively" determining when to enforce an old county code when the message may make the county look bad?

The attempt by Orange County to change the subject by focusing on the issue of the logo rather than defending the use of taxpayer funds for the pretrial release program and its practices is a desperate attempt to change the conversation and hide the real truth!

We trust none of you will fall for that tactic! Let your voice be heard at the September 24, 2009 public hearing on the budget.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Role of Pretrial Services and Private Surety Bail

There is a role for both the private surety bail industry and pretrial services to play in the criminal justice system.

Pretrial Services should focus on doing a thorough investigation into a defendant's criminal history, social/economic ties, residency, failures to appear, etc. to provide to a Judge at an initial appearance session so that an informed release decision can be made by a JUDGE.

Bail agents will supervise defendants released on a bail bond and ensure they appear at court and abide by other conditions of release. Bail agents will be physically and financially responsible for defendants released on bail.

The decision makers have the information needed for a release decision provided to them by a pretrial services program based on a thorough assessment, and the bail agent ensures appearance at court.

The system runs smoothly by all parties working together efficiently and effectively!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Public Hearings on Orange County, Fl. Budget

The Board of County Commissioners will hold two public hearings on the proposed 2009/10 budget for members of the public to comment on: September 10 and September 24, 2009.

$1.7 million of your tax dollars is currently allocated to screen and supervise defendants released from the jail with them not paying a dime for their release! These are defendants charged with serious offenses and many of whom have prior criminal histories.

What other priorities do you have for spending $1.7 million dollars? Let your commissioners know!