Friday, December 10, 2010

Pretrial Release – Using “proven” methods vs. “evidence-based or simple” methods

The Eighth Amendment (Amendment VIII) to the United States Constitution is the part of the United States Bill of Rights, which prohibits the federal government from imposing excessive bail, excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishments.

Bail laws in the United States grew out of a long history of English statutes and policies. During the colonial period, Americans relied on the bail structure that had developed in England hundreds of years earlier.  When the colonists declared independence in 1776, they no longer relied on English law, but formulated their own policies which closely paralleled the English tradition.  The ties between the institutions of bail in the United States are also based on the old English system.  In medieval England, methods to ensure the accused would appear for trial began as early as criminal trials themselves.  By the end of the 19th century, commercial sureties were the normal manner of release. 

In the 60’s there was pressure to develop alternatives to money bail; in 1966 President Lydon Johnson signed into law the first reform of the federal bail system since 1789, which created presumption in favor of releasing a defendant on their own recognizance (ROR), or a promise to appear for court. As evidenced by numerous national studies, such unsecured release has led to increased failures to appear for court costing the criminal justice system and taxpayers millions of dollars.

The private surety bail industry has continued to ensure defendants appear for all court proceedings. Bail agents are financially and physically responsible for all defendants released on bail and use no taxpayer funds. But the industry is under increased attacks.

By law, Judges must release defendants on the least restrictive conditions they believe are compatible for appearance at trial. When jails become overcrowded Judges are pressured to release individuals ROR rather than run the risk of setting a bail the defendant can’t secure. And then there are large government-funded pretrial services programs and credit card vendors who release defendants with little to no supervision.

While release on a bail bond through a private surety bail agent has been proven to be the most efficient and effective means of pretrial release, these other release methods are couched as “advancing justice through innovation and technology.”

A Proven Method.
A proven method is defined as “having been demonstrated or verified without doubt.” The private surety bail industry has a “proven method” of release that guarantees the appearance of the defendant in court. If not, the bail agent is 100 percent financially responsible and not the taxpayer. This proven method has been verified through numerous national studies.

Government-funded pretrial services programs began as a means to help indigent defendants charged with minor offenses secure release from jail. Today, they eschew any method of release using financial means – no matter the charge or the criminal history of the defendant – and don’t even consider indigency to be a factor for eligibility. Such programs have faced increasing scrutiny from elected officials and taxpayers as they have grown to become large bureaucratic programs fighting for their survival. Their latest tactic? They claim to use “evidence-based” practices that focus on innovation, technology, research, motivational interviewing and cognitive behavior!

These programs claim such methods will ensure the most effective release decision is recommended for defendants – all on unsecured release. So how does it work you ask?
Well defendants released under government-funded pretrial services programs are “interviewed and assessed” by asking a lengthy series of questions, many of which require specific personal information to be provided, and then pretrial services staff take such data and compile a “research-based” risk assessment to determine if the defendant will show up for court and not re-offend while on release. Your tax dollars at work here!

What type of questions is asked of defendants? Let us tell you.
  • Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking or drug use?
  • Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drug use or drinking?
  • Have you ever felt guilty about your drug use or drinking?
  • Have you had an eye opener the first thing in the morning to steady nerves or get rid of a hangover?
  • Do you ever use drugs to change the effect of another drug you have taken?
  • Do you feel . . . nervous, hopeless, restless or fidgety, so depressed that nothing can cheer you up?
  • Do you feel that everything is an effort, worthless?
  • Has a medical doctor ever prescribed medicine for an emotional problem such as depression or nervousness?
  • Have you been hospitalized for an emotional or behavioral problem?
  • Did you receive special education services in school for an emotional or behavioral problem?
  • Have you ever spoken to a psychologist or counselor about an emotional problem?
  • Have you ever received treatment for an alcohol or drug problem?
  • Do you have chronic medial problems that continue to interfere with your life?
  • Are taking prescription medicine for a physical problem?
  • Does someone contribute to your support?
  • Does it constitute the majority of your support?
  • How many people depend on you for their support?
  • Are you satisfied with your living arrangements?
  • Do you live with anyone who has a drug or alcohol problem?
  • Have you even been a victim of emotional, physical or sexual abuse?
  • What is your frequency of drug or alcohol use?
  • Do you administer drugs orally, through an IV, smoke, nasal snort?
  • Which substance is a major problem?
And just how long do you think this process takes?  Is it long enough to justify the millions of taxpayer dollars going in to such programs? These are defendants who have been arrested for a crime and have not yet had their day in court. Why are they being coddled by the pretrial services programs and asked such intrusive questions? These defendants have not been found guilty, ordered to probation, drug or mental health programs or any other “program” as a condition of their sentence. Such heavy-handed “intervention” at the front-end is what your tax dollars are being spent on when most defendants can afford to simply pay a nominal fee to bond out of jail.  And if they can't afford a monetary bond because they are truly inidgent, let the Judge take the onus for releasing the defendant on their own recognizance. 

Pay Bail Simply.
Then we have just the opposite system of release: the swipe-and-go credit card release system! This type of release is when an out-of-state software company is allowed to set-up shop in a county jail and for a hefty non-refundable fee, allows a defendant or their family to “swipe” their way out of jail. And oh by the way – whoever runs the jail gets a piece of the pie as well. For every defendant who swipes their way out, the jail gets a percentage of the transaction. How will this software company ensure that defendants actually show up for their court appearance? What will they do if defendants fail to show? They will do nothing to ensure that those who swipe their way out of jail are present in court. The jail will use more of your tax dollars by having their officers or other law enforcement officers try and find the absconded defendant when they aren’t fighting crime.

How is this method of release, where a company takes a non-refundable premium from a defendant, any different from the private surety bail industry?  Both obtain a non-refundable premium but with a bail agent, they are 100 percent financially responsible if the defendant fails to appear for court.  Under the other methods of release, the taxpayer is responsible. 

And a pretrial services program is about as responsible as the credit card vendor for a failure to appear. If a defendant doesn’t show up for court it’s only a negative statistic for the program. They simply tell the court the defendant “violated” his/her pretrial release and more of your tax dollars are allocated for the sheriff to go out and again try to find the defendant.  With a bail agent, it is their livelihood and business on the line.

Feeling generous yet with you tax money this holiday season?

The Truth About Bail.
The private surety bail industry has been characterized by government-funded pretrial services programs as “greedy bail agents” and who “exact” money for bail from defendants while leaving those who can’t afford bail to languish in jail. They have even stretched their theories to state that jails are overcrowded because of bail agents! Statistics 101: a correlation does not translate in to causality. The truth is that small and repeat bonds are the bread-and-butter of many bail agents. We all know there are many repeat offenders in every community. Bail agents build up a client base of such defendants who know that the agent will find and re-arrest them if they don’t abide by the bail contract – appear at court and stay out of trouble!

Research has proven that most defendants are able to bail out of jail within 24-72 hours. Bail agents are a critical component of helping to keep jail populations in-check. And the cost of bail to the defendant? A nominal fee of 10 to 15 percent of the bond in most states; this translates to approximately $100 - $500 maximum for most defendants. Contrast that with a pretrial services officer making from $16 to $25 an hour interviewing hundreds of defendants with their lengthy “risk assessment” tool and it adds up to substantially more than a bail bond would. Not to mention the time defendants remain in jail having to submit to such assessments when they could have been released on a bail bond using no taxpayer funds. Talk about affecting jail overcrowding!

To Sum Up.
Pretrial services programs and swipe-and-go systems completely remove any transfer of responsibility to a licensed and bonded agent who lives and works in the local community. It removes the economic interest that an agent has in making sure the defendant shows up for court. By doing so, we see a reduction in the “show up” rate for court, a rise in repeat crimes, and extra costs to taxpayers for requiring law enforcement to retrieve the missing defendant.

Research has proven that failure to appear rates are higher for defendants released on their own recognizance, deposit bonds and other non-secured release methods, while the private surety bail industry has the lowest failure to appear rate.

Our country continues to face an unprecedented economic crisis that still may take years to recover from. State and local governments have drastically cut budgets while raising fees for services and passing those costs on to already financially-strapped citizens. Private surety bail affords the opportunity to reduce jail overcrowding, increase public safety and improve compliance of those defendants released into the community pending case disposition. Any release method should always take into account the best use of taxpayer dollars and public safety.

As one great Florida Legislator said:
“The fact is that government can always compete with private industry and with the use of tax dollars can put almost any business out of business. If the government wanted to, they could lend money as banks; they could pay more interest than banks. If government wanted to be in the insurance business like private citizens, it could certainly do that. We just put it on the taxpayers’ backs."
And as far as government competing with private enterprise . . . this same Legislator said:
"Hell hath no furry like a bureaucrat who’s been asked not to compete with private industry!"
As we leave 2010 behind and enter in to a new year, citizens all over the country should become vocal advocates and demand that their valuable tax dollars not be wasted by governments wanting to become bigger and bigger to justify their existence to the detriment of public safety.

Hold those who choose to commit crimes accountable for their behavior and their release. Public policy affects public safety.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giving of Thanks and Free Pretrial Release

Thanksgiving is a time of giving thanks and celebrating the holiday season with family and friends. Unfortunately it is also the time for taking.

Crime often increases with the beginning of the holiday season. Burglaries, car thefts, shoplifting, robberies, violent crime and other crimes happen with more frequency and can affect any of us. Sadly, the “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” adage isn’t believed by all.

Our hope is that those individuals who choose to commit crimes in our communities will be held accountable for their actions and not just given a slap on the hand. That accountability starts with how a defendant is released after arrest if they are eligible for release.
The private surety bail industry believes that public safety and the wise use of taxpayer dollars should be considered foremost when making a release decision from jail. Too often career criminals with lengthy criminal and driving offense histories, failures to appear and violations of probation continue to be released on taxpayer funds through pretrial services programs. These programs have been couched by proponents as the ONLY means to reduce jail populations and truly protect public safety. Where once such programs were designed to target indigent defendants charged with minor, non-violent crimes, today they say everyone should be entitled to taxpayer release.

Proponents of pretrial services programs say that if people are staying in jail because they can’t afford to get out, that is not fair! Is it fair to the person who was a victim of crime that their perpetrator can be released on their dime? We are talking about people who have been arrested and accused of committing a crime. The fact that pretrial services programs claim it is "offensive" to ask these arrested individuals to do anything whatsoever to inconvenience them to get released from jail is in-and-of itself offensive.

One undeniable fact is this: when someone is released on a bail bond, it doesn’t cost the taxpayer anything! That bail agent is completely financially and physically responsible for the defendant. Bail agents are small business owners who are trying to make a living and make a difference in their communities at the same time. They bail out good and bad individuals everyday but do so knowing they are serving a public safety purpose. Some people make mistakes and find themselves in trouble with an arrest; others flaunt the law and continue to commit crimes until they are caught. Bail agents work with both sides of this spectrum. And bail agents risk their lives to find people who have absconded from court and their responsibility to receive their sentence.

And now, they must compete against the government who wants to release arrested individuals back in to the community. Who then should bear the burden for making sure those released individuals come back to court? Should it be the taxpayers or private industry? If you release someone through a pretrial services program, let them out the front door so to speak, if they don’t show up for court law enforcement is called to try and find the absconded individual using more of our tax dollars.

You see what pretrial services programs won’t publicly tell anyone is that they target people that are likely to post bail. Why? Because they know they are better “candidates” to show up for court as they have done so in the past. Indigency isn’t even considered in most pretrial services programs. You can be a wealthy individual who has means and assets, be charged with a crime, and still be released by taxpayer funds!

Pretrial services programs claim they are essential because they “monitor” people for drug/alcohol testing or electronic monitoring while awaiting case disposition. Some do and some don’t. However, we tend to forget a fundamental principle and that is, a person is innocent until proven guilty. Our society has taken upon itself to assume a paternalistic role to force people who have not yet been found guilty of a crime into “programs” before they have had a trial and a disposition of the case. To engage in an “intervention” and force people into programs before they have had their day in court is suggesting we know what is best for someone else. People may not have to pay for a bail bond, but they are paying through pretrial services programs, which can add up to much more than a one-time bail bond would.

When pretrial services programs get on their soap box and tell the world that it shouldn’t matter how much someone makes or what crime they may have been charged with in order to eligible for a pretrial services program, it says loud and clear that we’ve lost our path of getting back to the fundamentals of what the pretrial stage of accusation is all about.

So those who commit a crime this Thanksgiving holiday may very well be given an expression of thanks or an act of giving on the part of pretrial services programs . . . in the form of free release on your tax dollars!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Pretrial Justice Institute States: Connecticut state officials begin to question whether the state’s bail industry protects the public

The Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advocate nationwide for “fair and effective” pretrial practices that eliminate inappropriate detention, optimize diversion from prosecution, and maintain community safety.  They, like their sister organization, the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA), have aggressively and publicly stated that compensated sureties should be eliminated.  You see, these organizations believe that no one should have to pay for their own release from jail despite whatever crime they have allegedly committed.  These defendants should just be able to walk out of jail with a “promise” to return for court or the taxpayers should pay for their release through government-funded pretrial services programs! 

So the private surety bail industry always finds it humorous when the PJI attempts to advocate for increased release on taxpayer funds stating that such release “maintains public safety.”  The private surety bail industry has been functioning for decades and has been proven by numerous national studies to be the most effective and efficient means of pretrial release.  When you have your own money on the line for your release . . . or that of your parent’s, grandparents or friend’s . . . you inherently have more incentive to behave and attend all of your court hearings. 

A recent article in the Connecticut Post ( entitled “Officials say Connecticut's bail system in need of major reforms” highlighted this issue of bail agents undercutting and discounting bail bonds and the problems that such practices cause.  As the private surety bail industry has repeatedly stated, it does not condone bail agents who engage in unethical and unprofessional behavior, such as undercutting or discounting bail bonds for defendants.  The overwhelming majority of bail agents across this country abide by the laws and regulations of the industry because they live and work in the same communities they release defendants into.  They do care about public safety.

However, as is the practice of the PJI, they posted a blog article that conveniently failed to point out the reality of bail releases in the criminal justice system.  Thus, we felt it necessary to offer our point of view and highlight several instances regarding the PJI’s negative slant toward the bail industry in the Connecticut article:

·         The article stated that there are more than 17,000 accused felons in Connecticut who have skipped out on their bail bonds.  According to Connecticut’s state Judicial Branch, there are 17,856 pending cases in the state in which criminal defendants failed to appear for their court cases while either free on bonds or on written promises to appear.  Written promises to appear (release on recognizance) are issued daily by either the Judge or jail personnel but NOT the bail agent.  To slant the perception that all failures to appear are solely due to the bail industry is completely false.
·         National research has shown that the vast majority of defendants who fail to appear on a bail bond are apprehended and rearrested by their bail agent and brought back to the jurisdiction of the court at no cost to the taxpayer.  When a defendant fails to appear on a “promise to appear” or other taxpayer-funded release mechanisms, more tax dollars are simply spent to try to find them taking valuable time away from fighting and preventing crime.
·         PJI’s blog stated that “unfortunately, a criminal justice system that primarily leaves the decision of pretrial release to a for-profit industry will never protect communities from dangerous individuals.”  Again, a totally false statement.  The Connecticut article clearly stated that it is the Judge who has the ultimate authority to decide to give a defendant a bond or order the defendant held without bond.  The bond amount is set based on the recommendation of a state bail commissioner, who has interviewed the defendant, and following arguments from prosecutors and defense lawyers.  It is based on this detailed information and dialog, which the bail agent is never a party to, that the Judge sets or denies bail.  Once bond has been granted the bail agent is simply a tool to affect the release of the defendant – in no way is the release mechanism the decision of the bail agent!
·         The PJI blog also stated, “the only release requirements bondsmen have to satisfy are financial – which means that, even where bondsmen are requiring the mandatory 10% fee from defendants, dangerous defendants with money will obtain release.  Connecticut does not require its bondsmen to screen defendants for risk or likelihood of re-arrest – which means bondsmen, will only ever make their decisions based upon financial incentives.”  Bail agents assess the risk of each and every defendant they release on a bail bond as in the end it is their livelihood on the line.  Yes, financial incentives are a part of the equation as with any other business decision.  However, bail agents put their lives on the line each and every time they must pursue a defendant who has failed to appear.  As a citizen, I would much more appreciate knowing that when a criminal defendant willingly fails to appear to accept their judgment in court, that someone who has a financial incentive to find them is looking for them rather than a government worker sitting in an office who has no face-to-face interaction with the defendant or their family, and simply pushes a paper to the court when a defendant fails to appear. 
·         The PJI also asserts that “defendants charged with very serious crimes are likely to have higher bonds placed on them, they will inevitably represent higher income for bondsmen, making them the most appealing clients.  The bail industry is often a family business and as such, bail agents often interact with other families unfortunately involved in the criminal justice system.  Repeat offenders tend to go to a bail agent they know and trust and these individuals make up the “bread and butter” of a bail agent’s business.  Yes, defendants with high bond amounts who seek out a bail agent are welcomed if the risk is good.  However, the vast majority of bonds posted by a bail agent are the small and repeat ones.
·         As highlighted in the Connecticut Post article, Bridgeport, Connecticut’s own State's Attorney, John Smriga, said the current system puts witnesses and victims in criminal cases in jeopardy because the “current bond statute makes it possible for violent offenders to get out of jail with little financial risk to themselves, creating a serious risk that these individuals will not comply with court-ordered conditions of release endangering victims and witnesses or simply not returning to court."  Bail agents don’t set the bond schedule; Judges do.  When violent offenders are released from jail, we believe the public would again much rather have someone with a financial incentive to be watching that defendant rather than a government worker who has nothing to lose when the defendant fails to appear or is rearrested. 
·         Connecticut state law also requires bail agents to accept promissory notes from defendants for release, which can put the bail agent in danger when attempting to collect on those notes. 
·         Representative Michael Lawlor, co-chair of the Connecticut legislature’s Judiciary Committee, acknowledges that those who pose a serious safety risk are let out of jail and those that don't often remain behind bars.  Jails with effective government-funded pretrial services programs should focus on such individuals who are truly indigent and have committed a non-violent offense.  However, these individuals are often over looked by government-funded pretrial services programs while they release defendants charged with serious offenses and who have the ability to secure their own release from jail.

The Connecticut article pointed out that Representative Lawlor has introduced bills five times in an effort to put controls on the bail bonds business yet each bill has failed.  The last bill would have required bondsmen to certify under oath on a form that they were charging the legal premium.   Professional and ethical bail agents shouldn’t have a problem with certifying under oath they have charged a defendant the legally required premium. Those that do shouldn’t be in the business.

Unlike the PJI, the private surety bail industry has been working with the Connecticut legislature and the Department of Insurance, at their request, for six sessions now in an effort to resolve the irresponsible bonding practices of the few bail agents who participate in unethical behavior.  This same legislature has rejected the government-funded pretrial services system that the PJI and others tout as they understand such system creates more problems than it solves.  The private surety bail industry will continue to welcome our involvement in bettering the criminal justice system in Connecticut and all other states.   

The problems that should haunt the citizens of Connecticut are the scare tactics the PJI is purporting and not the value the private surety bail industry brings to the criminal justice system.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bail Industry Seeks to Ensure Safety

The Connecticut Post published an editorial on Monday, October 25 headlined “Bail system reforms are long overdue.” In certain cases, the private surety bail industry agrees.

 Like any industry in this country, there are a few bail agents who unfortunately create a negative image of the whole industry by engaging in unethical and unprofessional behavior. Competition has been at the forefront of business in this country for decades and can be a healthy incentive to increase the quality of service provided. However, competition turned to the negative can create situations that hurt many. The vast majority of professional bail agents across this county don’t condone undercutting bail bonds just to make a little more money over their competition because they know in the end, public safety will be affected.

What the public needs to remember is this: bail agents don’t make the decision as to who gets out of jail and on what method. Judges, who are elected by the citizenry, make the ultimate release decision for defendants charged with a criminal offense based on the facts presented to them. The bail agent is a tool for the court and the defendant to affect the release from jail if the Judge orders a secured monetary bond. The bail agent then contracts with the defendant and an indemnitor to secure the release and assure the court that the defendant will appear at all required court proceedings until disposition of the case. If the defendant fails to appear for court, the bail agent is responsible to either return the fugitive to justice or pay the bond to the court.

Bail agents must submit a “power” to the court to release a defendant, as issued by the insurance company who underwrites the bail agent. In essence, the “power” guarantees the full financial release of the defendant into the custody of the bail agent. Bail agents who choose to release a defendant on a “someone’s word” of future financial payment is not only doing so illegally, but they are going down a very slippery slope that the bail industry doesn’t condone despite the unsavory practices of other fellow bail agents. Professional and ethical bail agents shouldn’t have a problem with certifying under oath they have charged a defendant the legally required premium. Those that do shouldn’t be in the business.

Another key point is this: neither the bail agent, a taxpayer-funded pretrial release service nor the Judge who grants a defendant Release on Recognizance (a promise to appear) can guarantee to the court that the released defendant will not commit a new criminal offense while released from jail. Judges release hundreds of defendants on a promise to appear daily.

The private surety bail industry has a long and historic partnership in the criminal justice system and is the most effective and efficient means of pretrial release. Is the system flawed in some areas? Probably. Is the industry working hard to ensure that bail agents conduct themselves with the upmost professionalism and abide by laws of the state they post bail in? Absolutely. As the article stated, when dangerous people are taken into custody the system, and not the bail agent, need to ensure that they stay there.

The private surety bail industry will continue to promote the taxpayer and public safety benefits it provides in our communities.

Melanie Ledgerwood - Director of Government Relations
Accredited Surety and Casualty Company, Inc.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Private Surety Bail at Work

AccreditedBail would like to share an example of what bail agents across this country do to ensure that defendants who are released on bail and fail to appear, ultimately answer to the criminal justice system. This is why private surety bail works at no cost to the taxpayer! 

Read the story online at

St. Petersburg Times - Bondsman makes it his mission to catch one particular bail jumper

CLEARWATER — If you watch the Tampa Bay Rays on television, you've probably seen him. Bald head. Olive skin. Downcast eyes. Wanted for beating up a woman, among other dirty deeds.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is looking for Brian Andrew Word, but perhaps not nearly as intensely as Al Estes Bail Bonds Inc. It's spending $1,400 a month on TV ads featuring Word during all Rays games and offering $7,500 for information leading to his arrest.

"He's a menace to society," said Al Estes Sr. He's dangerous, Estes said, especially to women. Still, he's not the worst the bail bondsman has run across.

So why is he so focused on this guy?

There's the money. Estes stands to lose nearly $100,000 if Word doesn't turn up, though it wouldn't be the first time he's lost money on a bail jumper.

He tells every customer who comes through his office: You might make mistakes, you might be addicted or dishonest, but you don't ignore your court date.

Don't make him come after you. Because he will.

"We're going to get him," said Estes, 77 years old and not afraid of a slick, 6-foot, 41-year-old "good-looking party guy" who apparently took the old man for a fool.

One day in October 2009, a lawyer called Estes' office seeking help for Word, arrested on charges of battery by strangulation, residential burglary and other charges connected to a dispute with Word's former girlfriend. It wasn't Word's first battery arrest.

Estes agreed to bail out Word if someone would vouch for him. Soon, Word's mother, Milene Johnson, showed up. Estes has good luck when mothers get involved. People rarely skip town and leave their mothers to deal with bail bondsmen.

The longer Word is a fugitive, the more Estes Sr. stands to lose. Estes had to pay almost $100,000 to the court since Word missed a February court date, but if he catches Word within two years, he'll get at least half of the amount back. After two years, Estes gets nothing.

Post Conviction Bond - An Innovative Partnership with the Private Surety Bail Industry

Many states across the country are grappling with prison overcrowding and the rising cost of incarceration.  As a result, convicted prisoners may be released from their sentences early and return to the public realm.  Naturally, such releases raise questions regarding public safety.

National studies continue to show that the private surety bail industry is the most effective and efficient method of pretrial release.  That's because the industry is financially and physically responsible for defendants they release on bail and instill a network of the defendant's family and friends into the bail contract.  All parties together become accountable for the defendant's appearance in court and adherence to release conditions.  This same concept can be applied to supervising and being responsible for convicted prisoners released early from prison.

When a prisoner is released from prison prior to the completion of their sentence, they are released on parole.  Conditions of parole often include things such as obeying the law, refraining from drug and alcohol use, avoiding contact with the parolee's victims, obtaining employment, and maintaining required contacts with a parole officer.  With the posting of a post conviction bond, the bail agent would work in partnership with the parole officer by financially ensuring the paroled prisoner complies with the terms of parole. 
The same principles as with a pretrial release bond would be in place with a post conviction bond: if the parolee fails to comply with any terms of parole, the court will order the bond forfeited and issue a warrant for arrest.  The bail agent then has a certain amount of time to locate the parolee and return him/her back to the custody of the court.  If the bail agent is unable to return the parolee back to the court, a financial penalty equal to the full amount of the bond would have to be paid to the court by the bail agent. 

National studies have shown that pretrial defendants released on private surety bail are less likely to commit crimes while out on bail.  The industry believes our participation with the post conviction bond will have the same results, which is a win-win for the taxpayers and a direct affect on public safety. 

Some states are already allowing the use of post conviction bonds with great success.  It is a great resource that the private surety bail industry can provide.  We hope that other states will consider using such bonds in the future.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

NAPSA Bans NC Clerk of Court from Conference

The Honorable Brian L. Shipwash, Davidson County Clerk of Superior Court in North Carolina, has been a steadfast advocate for holding the criminal justice system accountable - both in the private surety bail industry and in the government-funded pretrial services arena.

In every industry a few individuals can create a negative opinion that can sometimes reflect on an entire industry. The private surety bail industry works diligently to promote the professionalism of our agents, helping the public and elected officials to understand that we are small business owners who provide a valuable service that has a direct affect on public safety and taxpayer savings. Bail agents do not tolerate the few who choose to disparage the industry through unethical practices.

Nor does Clerk of Court Shipwash. Over the last seven years, Clerk of Court Shipwash has taken the private surety bail industry to task in his county and state, making sure bail agents are adhering to statutes in the interest of justice. When they weren't, he steadfastly worked to ensure they followed all of the laws of his state and if not, they were no longer allowed to operate. He also exposed poor oversight by the state's Department of Insurance, who is charged with licensing bail agents, for not properly making sure all licensure practices were followed.

Clerk of Court Shipwash was clearly not favoring the private surety bail industry, but holding the industry accountable. It is something he also expects from government-funded pretrial services programs. One would think that government-funded pretrial services programs would welcome this type of subjective feedback and would value Clerk of Court Shipwash's desire to make both industries accountable in terms of public safety and the wise use of taxpayer dollars. However, that is not the case.

Clerk of Court Shipwash has been vocal in his expectations that government-funded pretrial services programs should concentrate on defendants most likely to benefit from their services in order to maximize the amount of taxpayer dollars going to fund such programs. Through data that Clerk of Court Shipwash has obtained, he does not always support the claim of government-funded pretrial services programs that such programs have a direct affect on reducing jail populations. In fact, across the nation jail populations have significantly dropped yet funding for government-funded pretrial services programs have not decreased. If pretrial services programs focused on their true purpose - to secure the release of indigent defendants charged with nonviolent, first-time offenses - then perhaps they would garner more support from those who doubt their value. But today, most government-funded pretrial services programs do not consider indigency to be a factor for release and defendants charged with serious offenses with lengthy criminal histories are routinely released through these programs. Clerk of Court Shipwash believes that government-funded pretrial services programs should be created and maintained in anticipation of criminal justice needs rather than in response to jail overcrowding problems.

Clerk of Court Shipwash paid to attend the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA) annual conference in San Diego, which is taking place this very week, to learn more about how he as an officer of the court could continue to work in partnership with both government-funded pretrial services programs and the private surety bail industry. But instead, he was told via a letter that he could no longer attend the conference.

Clerk of Court Shipwash received a letter from NAPSA where he was informed "your active involvement in the commercial bail bond industry and that industry's active endorsement of bills that are meant to limit and restrict the mission of pretrial programs is in direct opposition to our goals and standards. As such, the Board has determined that it would be inappropriate for you to attend. It also begs the question as to why you would want to attend if not to gather information that could be fashioned and used against pretrial programs in furtherance of the bail bond industry's agenda."

Clerk of Court Shipwash was not willing to accept this dismissal via a form letter as he felt the NAPSA board needed to hear why he wanted to attend the conference as well as his philosophy of holding both industries accountable. So he went to San Diego to plead his case. After all, he is an elected official of the court and a member of the criminal justice system. Surely an agency such as NAPSA would understand that reasoning and reconsider granting him admission to their conference.

Absolutely not.

Clerk of Court Shipwash was still denied entrance at the conference - but not only by NAPSA but also by their fellow sister organization, the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), which contributes significantly to the NAPSA conference and their overall goals and objectives. Now we have two nonprofit organizations saying an elected official of the court cannot attend their conference.

So while the private surety bail industry has welcomed Clerk of Court Shipwash's involvement to make the system even more accountable to the courts and the taxpayers, these nonprofit organizations whose mission is to eliminate financial bail, clearly sent the message that they don't need any feedback or partnership with Clerk of Court Shipwash. And being an elected official doesn't matter where they are concerned.

Could the reason for this public rejection be based on the fact that Clerk of Court Shipwash has sought to provide accountability to the government-funded pretrial services arena by insisting that the indigent population be served by such programs instead of using taxpayer dollars to release defendants who are able to secure their own release? Could the reason be that Clerk of Court Shipwash has data and performance statistics to show that not all pretrial services programs are adhering to NAPSA and PJI goals of operation? Could it be that Clerk of Court Shipwash and others are pointing out to citizens and elected officials the kind of defendants being released on our tax dollars that greatly affects public safety?

If such information was not true there would have been no need for Florida and other states to enact a Citizens' Right-to-Know Act, which requires pretrial services programs to provide detailed data on defendants released through their program so that the public could ascertain if their tax dollars were being put to good use. There would be no need to exclude others from their conferences or from collaborating together to make the criminal justice system better.

These are organizations that receive significant federal tax dollars and yet they have the audacity to exclude not only private citizens who have paid to attend their conference, but also an officer of the court.

What are these goverenment-funded organizations trying to hide?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

NAPSA Conference Closed To Those Who Have a Different Viewpoint

The National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA) is holding its 38th annual conference and training institute in San Diego, CA September 26-29, 2010. NAPSA is a nonprofit national organization, which advocates for the pretrial release and pretrial diversion fields. In other words, they promote the use of government-funded pretrial services programs to release defendants from jail and supervise them using taxpayer dollars rather than release and supervision through the private sector.

Accredited attended the 2009 conference and paid for an "early bird" registration the first part of May of this year in anticipation of again attending an informative conference. However just this past Monday, September 20, 2010, we received a terse letter saying we were no longer welcome to attend the conference! Recently NAPSA had added a conference attendance disclaimer to their website in short stating that "by attending the NAPSA ACTI the attendee agrees with and supports the NAPSA standards." The letter Accredited received stated "your active involvement in the commercial bail bond industry and that industry's endorsement of bills that are meant to limit and restrict the mission of pretrial programs is in direct opposition to our goals and standards."

Well what exactly do NAPSA's standards state?

Standard 1.4 (f) states that "compensated sureties should be abolished." Standard 1.4 (g) goes on to state that "no defendant released under conditions providing for supervision by the pretrial services agency should be required to have bail posted by a compensated surety." Finally NAPSA has stated that "financial conditions should never be set simply by reference of a bail schedule that establishes money bail amounts based on the nature of the charge and state flatly that financial conditions should never be used in order to detain the defendant."

Never??? No matter the crime or the person's criminal history??? Just let them walk out of jail free while the citizens hope that a pretrial services officer will adequately supervise that person from their office???

The private surety bail industry has always said that there IS a role for government-funded pretrial services programs in the criminal justice system. The industry has never advocated for the elimination of such programs as they have for our industry. We believe indigent first-time and non-violent offenders should be the population pretrial services programs focus on, as these are the individuals who often don't have the financial means to get out of jail and based on their crimes, are low public safety risks to the community.

It is nearsighted for an organization like NAPSA to think that the private surety bail industry, made up of small businesses who provide a valuable service to the criminal justice system at no cost to the taxpayer, would embrace their standard of "eliminating compensated sureties," in order to attend their annual conference.

And, is booting a private citizen from their annual conference even legal? NAPSA receives a generous amount of federal funding from the U.S. Court System and U.S. Pretrial and Probation Services. These are federal tax dollars and many employees from these systems attend the NAPSA conference every year.

Unfortunately those who disagree with NAPSA's philosophy, despite being fellow criminal justice professionals, are simply not worthy of attending NAPSA's conference.

Well, there is always next year. Perhaps NAPSA will have a different viewpoint then.