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.

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