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.

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