Wednesday, October 28, 2009

National Association of Counties Supports Taxpayer-Funded Pretrial Release Programs

The National Association of Counties (NACo), a national organization that represents county governments, has partnered with the Pretrial Justice Instiutute (PJI) to provide technical assistance and training to targeted counties to review and assess their pretrial programs and jail population capacity. The partnership is promoted as, "empowering elected county officials," as pretrial justice continues to be an important point of effective county jail population management.

NACo's 2009 "American County Platform" calls for counties to establish alternatives to money bail, such as establishing pretrial services/release programs using taxpayer dollars. The initiative aims to, "reduce wasteful spending and protect more victimization," by releasing criminal defendants back into our communities. Whatever happened to the old addage, "you do the crime, you do the time," by being accountable for your actions??

Let the system be more effective at the front end by working with the private surety bail industry and other criminal justice partners to develop innovative strategies for reducing the jail population without expending more taxpayer dollars.

Accredited has tried unsuccessfully in Orange County, Florida to promote an indigent bond program, where bail agents would release and supervise indigent defendants in our community by having the county pay the agent a flat fee of $100. The agent then assumes all financial and physical liability for that defendant. If the defendant fails to appear, the bail agent pays the county back the $100. It should be a win-win for county governments but instead they would rather spend millions of your tax dollars to release and "supervise" defendants rather than pay a bail agent a $100 to do the same thing! Accredited has also unsuccessfully tried to promote a probation bond program by putting in place a probation bond at the time a defendant is sentenced to probation. If the defendant violates any terms of his probation, the probation bond is already in place and again, the bail agent would release and supervise the defendant pending a hearing on the violation. As the system currently stands, when a defendant violates his/her probation, they are placed on a no bond status and wait weeks in jail to see a Judge for the violation hearing. More tax dollars spent by taking up jail bed days instead of being supervised in the community.

Public policy affects public safety!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Orange County Mayor's Race: Will Pretrial Release Be on the Agenda?

The Orange County, Florida jail's pretrial services/release program continues to grow using our tax money; once a huge bureacracy is formed we all know it won't go away. The County Commissioners are under the impression that there must be a pretrial services/release program per Florida statute and that such program must be funded by county government. However, that is not the case. No where in statute does it state that there must be a program to release and supervise defendants nor that county government must fund such program. The statute states there should be a presumption in favor of release on non-monetary conditions where appropriate; if a Judge wishes to release someone from jail on non-monetary means they have the discretion to do so. A pretrial services function is for the purpose of doing a thorough investigation on a defendant's background in order to provide for a more meaningful initial appearance so that a Judge can make the most informed release decision.

Thousands of post cards have been returned by Orange County citizens based on the mailer sent out by Accredited and are still coming in six weeks later. Citizens have stated unequivocally that they do not want their tax dollars spent to release and supervise defendants released from jail. All of the County Commissioners were advised of that fact at the budget public hearing in September and visually shown how many cards had been returned. Commissioners were particularly informed of the concerns of citizens regarding the types of crimes defendants were being released on without ever seeing a Judge. The jail chief has led commissioners to believe that the pretrial release program visits defendants released through the program at their job site and at their home. This is completely untrue. Home confinement, a totally different program, may offer that level of supervision but NOT the pretrial release program - supervision is relegated to calling in to an automated telephone system.

Three sitting Commissioners are running for Mayor: Commisisoner Segal, Commissioner Stewart and Commissioner Fernandez. Commissioner Segal has stated that the only thing cash bond provides is to make sure someone appears in court, despite the volumes of information he has received that shows the contrary. He stated the law provides presumption in favor of non-monetary release and that the Chief Judge supervises it. The Chief Judge doesn't supervise the program, he just issues an Administrative Order governing the program. If there is a mistake, he doesn't take any heat from it nor does the court system fund the program! Commissioner Stewart, who received the most returned cards to date, has remained mute on the subject. Does that mean she doesn't care about the issue? Maybe her constituents should ask her. Commissioner Fernandez has been the only Commissioner running for Mayor who has asked and continues to ask the hard questions regarding how the pretrial release program is run and the type of people being released . . . and before she decided to run for Mayor. Commissioner Brummer, who is up for re-election, has also expressed his concerns regarding the program.

If you continue to care how your tax dollars are spent, make sure you let candidates running for Mayor know where their priorities should be and how you expect them to use your limited tax funds.

Public policy affects public safety.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


According to national data by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, local governments spend more money on criminal justice initiatives than state or federal goverments. Of those inmates in jail on any given day, 35 percent have been charged with violent offenses; 22 percent with property offenses; 23 percent for drug offenses and 20 percent for public order/ordinance offenses. Many of the inmates have a history of repeating criminal behavior.

Proponents of pretrial release programs acknowledge that courts are imposing more financial conditions of release for the crimes committed, as they should. Why would a judge release someone on pretrial release, particularly without a bond, when the level of supervision is only to call in to an automated telephone system?

In Florida, the average bail bond is $1,500, which means a defendant only has to post $150 and some form of collateral to gain release through a bail agent. Collateral is taken to involve a third party who will motivate the defendant to attend all of his court appearances. Don't you think if a defendant's parents, other family members or a friend put their house or car up as collateral or ensured the bail amount on a credit card if the defendant failed to appear, that the defendant would have more incentive to follow through on their responsibility? And if they don't, the bail agent and not the taxpayer is responsible for paying the full amount of the bond to the court.

Advocates of taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs simply want defendants charged with any type of crime that requires financial release to be able to walk out of jail without paying a dime and with little to no supervision. Their goal is to abolish financial bail. In the four states that did abolish bail some years ago, their failure to appear and fugitive rates have skyrocketed to the point that it would take millions of dollars and manpower to find absconded defendants.

If someone willfully chooses to commit a crime then they should be held accountable for the consequences. It that means they have to use some of their own resources to get out of jail, or use someone else's resources, so be it. Maybe they will think twice the next time before commiting another criminal offense.

Prison and Jail Overcrowding

Nationwide, prison overcrowding has become a serious problem in America, which is funneling down to local jails. Such overcrowding leads to early releases of defendants convicted of serious offenses posing a serious public safety issue for communities.

The passage of crime legislation across the states, in an effort to curb rising crime rates, has led to increased prison and jail populations. It is a catch 22 scenario: making criminals pay for their criminal behavior and protecting the public or continue to spend millions of dollars building new prisons and jails to house criminals while other needed services and programs go unfunded.

The Orange County, Fl. jail books approximately 62,000 people annually. A snapshot of today's jail population shows there are 3,027 felony offenders and 607 misdemeanor offenders being held. The jail's population sits at 92.8 percent of its capacity, as it has for the good part of the year, which indicates it isn't facing any jail overcrowding issues.

However, hundreds of defendants continue to be released weekly through the pretrial release program using your tax dollars. Many of these defendants are released without ever seeing a judge. You may ask what the level of supervision is for these defendants through the pretrial release program: calling in to an automated telephone system on a weekly or monthly basis. Many defendants are also released on their own recognizance through the pretrial release program with no supervision whatsoever.

No one from the pretrial release program is watching! But, a bail agent would be.