Friday, November 20, 2009

Accredited Surety and Casualty: A Caring Employer and Leader in the Private Surety Bail Industry

Anyone who has a job in these tough economic times is blessed!

As companies strive to balance their budgets, many have been forced into freezing or cutting positions, cutting back work hours, deleting any company "perks" such as raises, health and retirement benefits, holiday parties/events, etc., while taking a hard look at the bottom line.

For those of us who are blessed to remain employed, we generally strive to do our best to support the overall company mission while continuing to do the best job we can to help our companies remain viable in our community.

Once in awhile you find yourself having the opportunity and priviledge to work for a company, that even in the worst of times, continues to show its employees that they are valued partners in the business.

Accredited Surety and Casualty Company, Inc. is one of those companies.

Accredited employees go above and beyond every day because we work for a company, while like others has faced tough business decisions along the way, that truly cares about its employees and their families and promotes its mission and business philosophy in all that it does. Accredited, like other companies, has had to re-evaluate its core mission and service and adjust the business accordingly. However, the morale and enthusiasm of employees remains high.

Run by sisters Debbie and Sharon Jallad, Accredited never ceases to give back to its employees, agents, friends and community. The company values the hard work, dedication and loyalty of all of their employees and even in these tough times, finds ways to let us all know that we are truely welcomed in the Accredited family.

Not many companies have the national reputation, business and fiscal excellence, strong public safety policies, leadership qualities and business ethics that Accredited has. Accredited employees are proud to work for Accredited as we are not only valued as professional partners in the business, but also as family.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of the Accredited family, our friends and colleagues.

Accredited - you are the BEST!

Annual Review of Florida's Pretrial Release Programs Underway

The Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA), the Florida agency charged with evaluating the effectiveness and cost-efficiency of pretrial release programs in Florida, is currently reviewing such programs for the 2nd annual report. The first annual report was issued in December 2008. This second report is due to be published in January 2010.

Will provide an analysis of the 2008 report as well as any key findings in the 2009 report in the near future.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Recurring Issues at Orange County, Jail: Coincidence or Subtle Retaliation?

August 1, 2009 the Clerk of Court turned over all bond responsibilities to the Orange County Jail to include the posting of bonds, paying bond forfeitures and registering new bail agents in order to post bonds at the jail. The private surety bail industry had enjoyed a wonderful working relationship with the Clerk of Court staff in the booking facility at the jail for many years, and we were disappointed that due to budget cuts, the Clerk's staff had to relinquish these duties.

The jail said that the transition of assuming the clerk's duties would be seamless and all processes and procedures would be the same as with the Clerk of Court. However, the private surety bail industry in Central Florida had already encountered several issues in working with jail staff to resolve pretrial release issues, interviewing of inmates and getting free phone calls through to bail agents, so the "seamless" transition statement was taken with caution. Rightly so.

Even before the private surety bail industry was successful in Orange County, Florida with having "administrative" pretrial release revoked, officially ending the practice of jail staff making release decisions on inmates charged with serious offenses, a working relationship with most of the jail staff had already become increasingly acrimonious.

Bail agents had been stating for some time that the free phones in the booking facility, where inmates would wait until bonded out or seen by a judge within 24 hours, rarely work so that inmates can at least call a loved one, friend or bail agent to help post a bail bond. Free phone calls are allowed anywhere inside the jail to the public defender's office but not to bail agents who can help ensure the jail's population stays manageable. Bail agents have recently learned that the only way to get calls from inmates inside the jail is to set up an account with the jail's phone vendor, who refunds part of the proceeds of all calls back to the jail, and then the bail agent must also pay for all collect calls from the inmates. After inmates have gotten through to a bail agent, they are asked if they were able to make free calls and invariably, they all say no until they got back into the jail cells.

Many of the correctional officers bail agents have encountered also seem to have negative attitudes and have made comments such as, "it's not my problem," or blaming other shifts for mistakes that are costing the inmates more time in jail and the bail agents the ability to post a bond. Some correctional officers have even gone so far as to argue the law with bail agents about who they can and can't bond out and how the bail bond system works! Information on inmates takes more and more time to be imputed into the jail's Jail Trak system from initial booking all the way through release. And, more people are now being released on their own recognizance by jail staff, again without seeing a judge, since the administrative release function was revoked. We are tracking to make sure people are being released in this fashion legally according to the amended administrative order.

The Jail Chief has not been silent with his opinions, internally and externally, about the private surety bail industry expressing issues with how the jail is functioning or the release methods being used, and then being forced to acquiesce and change procedures because of some of the issues raised.

So is the recurring and increasing uncooperative working relationship between the jail and the private surety bail industry an attempt to send a message not to mess in the jail's turf? If the jail was truly interested in keeping the jail population manageable and keeping the public safe, they would foster a more collaborative working relationship with bail agents who play a critical role in the criminal justice system.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Orange County Mayor: Give Me Credit for Changes to the Pretrial Release Program

Orange County, Florida Mayor Richard Crotty did an about face recently regarding the pretrial release program at the jail when the Chief Judge suddenly revoked the way the program released defendants.

For the last several months, the private surety bail industry has put pressure on Chief Judge Belvin Perry, Jr., the Mayor and Board of County Commissioners regarding an "administrative" release process that allowed jail staff to make release decisions. Defendants charged with serious and/or repeat criminal and driving offenses were routinely being released without any judicial involvement and minimal supervision. A mailer was sent to 50,000 Orange County citizens making them aware of how their tax dollars were being spent after numerous attempts to educate our elected officials on the public safety concerns for such releases. The response from citizens was overwhelming and a strong message was sent that they did not want their tax dollars spent to release and supervise defendants.

In response to the mailer, the Mayor asked the jail chief to make a presentation on September 22, 2009 regarding the success of the pretrial release program, to include the legal authority for such program to operate. The private surety bail industry had put the Chief Judge, the Mayor and Board of County Commissioners on notice that our contention was that release by a non-judicial authority was illegal. Judge Perry stated publicly and privately that he was not going to eliminate release authority by jail staff because his initial appearance judges would be forced to deal with more defendants who did not bond out within 24 hours. If the private surety bail industry didn't like his decision we could file a lawsuit challenging his authority with the Florida 5th District Court of Appeal. That is exactly what we did on October 26, 2009!

However, during the jail presentation the Mayor stated that the, "level of community supervision was key to the success of the pretrial release program and that an 84 percent success rate was pretty impressive." This comment was made after jail staff had stated that most defendants choose to call in to an automated telephone answering system as their "preferred" method of supervision. Mayor Crotty went on to accuse the private surety bail industry of lauching a public relations attack for a, "sliver of seven percent of releases," through the pretrial release program and patted himself on the back for holding public safety harmless during the budget process. It didn't seem to phase the Mayor that $1.7 million in tax dollars were being spent to allow "lay" individuals to make release decisions back into our community for individuals charged with serious and repeat offenses.

One week after a petition for common law writ of certiorari was filed on behalf of Accredited Surety and Casualty Company to the Florida 5th District Court of Appeal challenging the release process by a non-judicial authority, Judge Perry suddenly decided that the authority for jail staff to release defendants should be changed and issued an amended administrative order. This amended order, effective November 5, 2009, prohibits release into the pretrial release program prior to initial appearance in front of a Judge, acknowledging that such release decisions should not be made by jail staff. A huge victory for the private surety bail industry! But who do you think took credit for the change? Mayor Richard Crotty.

The Mayor issued a memo to the Board of County Commissioners on November 6, 2009 stating that he had instructed jail staff to review the, "internal processes and identify opportunities for improvement," of the pretrial release program and to work with the Chief Judge on, "potential revisions to the administrative order governing the pretrial release program." This is after the jail had made a presentation outlining the, "legal authority," for the program and the Mayor had publicly touted the success of the pretrial release program stating the county was, "on pretty solid ground," with the way the program operated.

No credit whatsoever was given to the private surety bail industry for advocating and fighting to make sure your tax dollars were spent wisely and that public safety was enhanced by providing a higher level of supervision than offered through the pretrial release program! Despite the fact that we had to legally challenge the release mechanism and highlight the types of releases happening through the pretrial release program and the previous contention by the Mayor and the jail that all was, "well," with the program . . . suddenly this about face occurs. Mayor Crotty has set himself up to continue to take credit for these changes by saying he has, "instructed staff to continue to monitor the progress of the pretrial release program and provide updates on a regular basis."

Sometimes an attempt at blatant credit, is just blatant.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Orlando Sentinel: Judge Perry Agrees to Bail Bond Industry Demands on Pretrial Release

Posted by David Damron - November 10, 2009

"After a legal and political full-court press by bail bond agents, Orange-Osceola Chief Judge Belvin Perry agreed to change the rules governing a pretrial release program, he said Tuesday.

The judge's move could force an estimated 17 extra Orange County prisoners to either spend a night in jail before seeing a judge the next day - or pay a bail bondsman to get them out immediately. Under Perry's previous order, jail officials could determine if inmates qualified for the pretrial release program and release them before a judge reviewed the case. This was costing the bail bond industry business.

So the industry filed a legal challenge to Perry's order governing the pretrial release program. And in September, it sent 50,000 fliers to Orange homes arguing that the program released violent criminals from jail without ever seeing a judge.

Perry disagreed, and said that the rules he set up for the program followed state guidelines. But after consulting with Orange jail officials, Perry said he was comfortable with requiring pretrial release inmates to see a judge.

Accredited Surety and Casualty Company, the Orlando bail bond agency behind the fight, was pleased with Perry's rule change. A company spokeswoman said it, "prohibits jail staff from making any release decisions," and requires anyone not released on bond to have a judge look at their case."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Orange County, Florida Jail: Administrative Pretrial Release Function Revoked

Administrative pretrial release, which allowed jail staff to release defendants without any judicial involvement, has been revoked by the Chief Judge after the private surety bail industry made elected officials and the public aware that defendants charged with serious and repeat offenses were routinely being released through the program. Tax dollars are used to manage and support such release.

Belvin Perry, Jr., Chief Judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit in Orlando, Florida, amended his administrative order to prohibit release into the pretrial release program until initial appearance in front of a judge. Prior to this amended order, jail staff would release defendants charged with serious and/or repeat criminal and traffic offenses as delegated by the administrative order and the Chief of Corrections. Many of the released defendants had prior lengthy criminal and traffic histories, failures to appear and violations of probation.

Effective November 5, 2009, all defendants not released on a cash or surety bond within 24 hours of arrest, will attend an initial court appearance where a judge will make an informed release decision based on the criminal/driving history of the defendant, economic/social status, residency etc. The history provided to the judge must be certified as accurate by the pretrial release program.

A week prior to amending the administrative order, a Petition for Common Law Writ of Certiorari was filed with the 5th District Court of Appeal on behalf of Accredited challenging the administrative release process by non-judicial staff. The amended order validates Accredited's position that pretrial release must be a solely judicial decision. Judges are elected officials and accountable to the voters; jail staff and other "lay" individuals are not.

Bail agents work and live in our communities and take the issue of public safety very seriously. Bail agents are financially and physically responsible for defendants released on bail and integrate a defendant's family and friends into the bail contract. A much higher level of supervision is given to defendants released on bail without using any taxpayer funds. National studies have shown that private surety bail is the most efficient and effective method of pretrial release and guarantees a defendant's appearance in court.

Public policy affects public safety!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Accountability and Transparency for Pretrial Release Programs

Orange County Government in Orlando, Florida approved their final 09/10 fiscal year budget of over $3 billion dollars this September. The budget had to be balanced by using reserve funding, freezing hundreds of unfilled county positions, abandoning park and other county projects, curtailing travel for training and conferences and even using federal stimulus funds.

Much discussion was given to the $1.7 million dollars of taxpayer funds budgeted to the pretrial services/release function at the jail, which screens, releases and supervises defendants charged with serious and/or repeat criminal and driving offenses. Hundreds of such defendants never see a judge for their release.

Many offenders released through a pretrial release program are financially capable of posting a bail bond, and many have done so in the past. Why should taxpayer funds be used to release an arrested individual who has the means to do so themselves? Why not utilize such taxpayer funds to release truly indigent individuals arrested for non-violent, first-time offenses, as was the original intent of pretrial release programs? Why are your tax dollars being used to compete with private enterprise that does a more effective and efficient job of supervising defendants released from jail?

Promoting a dangerous taxpayer-funded release system that offers little to minimal supervision, while attacking the private surety bail industry with hundreds of years of success behind it, highlights government bureaucracy at its best! Not only are taxpayers continually being asked to open up their wallets and spend more on government services, but now another bureaucratic organization, the National Association of Counties (NACo), is also asking for you to spend more. NACo "represents" county governments nationwide, and is promoting to county elected officials to create or expand their taxpayer-funded pretrial release systems because money bail is wrong.

Public organizations using taxpayer funds should be accountable for the wise use of such funds and transparent in their effectiveness or non-effectiveness. Taxpayer-funded release systems are neither financially or physically accountable for defendants released under such programs; no one is physically keeping in contact with a defendant and/or their family and making sure the defendant appears for court. In addition, pretrial release programs receive no financial penalty if a defendant fails to appear for court. Your tax dollars are funding the program regardless.

Taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs are complaining that they must provide to the public detailed information on the defendants released through their programs; they say such requests are burdensome and time consuming. Are they afraid of being transparent by providing proof of their effectiveness? National studies have shown the ineffectiveness of unsecured release and thus why such programs fight against transparency.

Don't be fooled by their rhetoric or claims of helping their communities by releasing people who have a "right" to unsecured release. The real issue is the lack of public safety and potential danger our communities face when defendants are released back into our communities with no accountability for their actions. Public agencies using taxpayer funds should be transparent and open to providing the most effective services possible. Taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs have been shown time and time again to be ineffective by having the highest failure to appear and fugitive rates. Money bail has worked for hundreds of years because it is effective and accountable to the criminal justice system.

Public policy affects public safety.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Orlando Sentinel Article - Bail Bondsmen: Kill Orange pretrial release program

The October 31, 2009 edition of the Orlando Sentinel ran a story about the private surety bail industry's fight to ban administrative releases through the pretrial release program, where defendants are released without ever seeing a judge. While the article generally included factual statements, some comments were off point.

The private surety bail industry has filed a lawsuit with the 5th District Court of Appeal to prevent anyone other than a judge, or through a set bail schedule, from releasing an arrested defendant from jail. The Sentinel article stated that the, "fight centers on certain inmates considered minimal risks - first-time drunken drivers, people arrested on minor theft charges and other nonviolent crimes . . ." However, many individuals arrested for DUI and released through the pretrial release program are not first-time offenders, but their arrests and/or convictions for DUI fall outside of time parameters outlined in an administrative order governing release. In addition, the private surety bail industry contends that offenses such as aggravated assault/battery with a weapon, carrying/possessing a concealed firearm/weapon, burglary, grand theft 3rd degree, armed possession of drugs with intent to sell/deliver, exposing sexual organs, lewd/lascivious behavior, criminal use of identification, forgery, theft, child neglect, throwing a deadly missile at/into an occupied vehicle and numerous habitual driving offenses are not minor and/or non-violent offenses.

Many of the released inmates have lengthy criminal and/or driving offense histories and continue to not be held accountable for their actions by an easy and free release mechanism that offers limited and minimal face-to-face supervision or supervision through calling into an automated telephone answering system. The jail has been under capacity for most of the year, so continuing to release defendants charged with serious offenses is not addressing the issue of jail overcrowding at all. Nor is the true status of indigence being confirmed for any defendant released on your tax dollars.

County Commissioners have expressed concern regarding the pretrial release program because the private surety bail industry has made them aware of the types of releases actually occurring. Judges are accountable to the citizens who elect them for their release decisions; jail staff have no such responsibility to the voters.

Public policy affects public safety.