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.

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