Friday, February 19, 2010

Pretrial Release Bills

Florida Senator John Thrasher and Representative Chris Dorworth are sponsoring bills for the 2010 legislative session that would streamline the types of people that could be released under a taxpayer-funded pretrial services/release program. Of course, this has caused a massive panic of pretrial services/release programs across Florida fearing they may loose their taxpayer-funded jobs!

Other states across the country are sponsoring similar legislation and some have even been successful getting such legislation passed, which also has led to similar uproars from pretrial services/release programs. So upset are they that the private surety bail industry has finally begun to show they type of lies and rhetoric these programs tell legislators, funders and the public, that they have launched a massive public relations effort to discredit us - but it is beginning to backfire on them!

The benefits of the Florida pretrial detention and release bills limiting release into a taxpayer-funded pretrial services/release program are many and take into account the wise use of taxpayer dollars and public safety:
  • The bills enhance public safety by targeting defendants who are charged with a misdemeanor offense or felony offense, which not dangerous in nature, for release
  • Defendants who have failed to appear for a court appearence previously would not be eligible for release due to their lack of accountability for appearing in court for past crimes
  • Defendants who are already on probation for a prior offense or have committed a new offense would also not be eligible for release
  • The "public option" for release for dangerous criminals and those with lengthy criminal histories would be eliminated
  • Defendants with prior convictions for violent offenses would not be eligible for release
  • The bills would require that those defendants who can afford to pay for their release do so and would require programs to target truly indigent defendants
  • The bills do not take away judicial discretion to release a defendant on non-monetary means if they do not qualify for a pretrial services/release program - the judge can still release a defendant on their own recognizance if appropriate
  • The bills prohibit the collection of any fees for release or supervision

Pretrial services/release programs continually try to portray bail agents as greedy and who are only out to make a profit off the unfortunate! Bail agents do not determine who gets out of jail and who doesn't. The decision as to whether or not a defendant is released and under what mechanism lies directly with the court. Unacceptable risk is the sole reason a bail agent would not bond a defendant out of jail.

The fact that pretrial services/release programs are complaining that these bills PROHIBIT them from collecting fees shows that they really don't care about non-monetary release or how tax dollars are spent! Individuals that comprise the private surety bail industry are all taxpayers too and we demand that our money be spend wisely and effectively!

So should all of you. Public policy affects public safety!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Dirty Tricks and Lies by Pretrial Services Programs

Virginians for the Preservation of Bail are also fighting to get legislation passed that would hold pretrial services programs more accountable for taxpayer dollars by making sure a defendant is indigent to be eligible for release. Accredited and other nationwide insurance companies underwriting bail is behind this effort 100 percent.


Because the wise use of taxpayer funds and public safety should always be a shared goal. Why should a defendant charged with a serious crime and/or who has a lengthy criminal history just be allowed to walk out of jail for free with limited supervision? Is that what you want as a taxpayer?

The Virginians for the Preservation of Bail have professional legislative consultants working beside them because they believe in the private surety bail industry's message of accountability and using taxpayer funds wisely. These legislative consultants are not new to the area of fighting to get legislation passed for their clients. But the tactics and lies of pretrial services "advocates" have opened their eyes in many ways. Below is a direct quote from the chief legislative consultant regarding the environment in Virginia:

"Let me be clear. I have worked on political issues before, many of them controversial. I have never seen a public group as quick to lie, cheat and engage in unethical behavior as quickly or as readily as the pretrial activists. I am disgusted by their attempts and we will not stop until this legislation becomes law. We will not back down in the face of deceit and dirty tricks."

You be the judge. Do you want transparency and accountability, which leads to better public safety decisions, or do you want deceit and dirty tricks?

Public policy affects public safety!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Nationwide Legislative Initiatives Regarding Pretrial Services/Release

Nationwide, the private surety bail industry is fighting to promote legislation that would protect the further misuse of taxpayer funds by pretrial services/release programs and mandate that they adhere to their original mission of helping indigent defendants charged with first-time and/or non-violent offenses to be released from jail pending the disposition of their case. The private surety bail industry has a proven track record of providing the most effective and efficient means of pretrial release while saving taxpayers millions of dollars!

Bail agents are financially and physically responsible for defendants they release on bail; unacceptable risk is the only reason a bail agent wouldn't bond a defendant out of jail. If a defendant has no one in the community or family members willing to stand behind him financially to get out of jail, it speaks volumes regarding the accountability of that defendant. Despite the claim of pretrial services/release programs that defendants languish in jail simply because they can't afford a monetary bond, it is not true. Few defendants remain in jail simply because they can't afford ten percent of the bond, which in many cases is anywhere from a $100 to $500 depending on their offense.

Pretrial services/release programs don't want anyone to have to post a monetary bond to get out of jail - despite whatever criminal act they may have committed or whatever financial resources they may have. Where is the accountability in that? It seems to only reward criminal behavior because the defendant knows despite what crime he commits, he/she would be able to walk out of jail free and no one will be tracking them. If they fail to appear, again, no one will make a great effort to find them because law enforcement is already overburdened fighting and/or preventing other crimes. Your tax dollars just keep on being siphoned by the system.

Let's set the record straight: bail agents do not determine who gets out of jail and who doesn't. The court surrenders no release power to a bail agent. The decision as to whether a defendant is released and under what mechanism lies directly with the court. The relationship of the bail agent with the court is a contractual one for the purpose of ensuring the defendant appears in court. As an added benefit, the bail agent also helps to enhance public safety because he/she takes detailed information on the defendant, their family, friends, place of employment, residency, hobbies, social habits and even adds conditions to the bond contract such as curfews. And, collateral may be secured by the defendant's family as an added layer of accountability. Afterall, would you want to make your Mom or Dad, Grandparents or siblings lose something of value simply because you didn't want to show up for court one day? Do you think a pretrial services/release program integrates this type of system of care into their release contract? Think again!

Despite all of the levels of physical and financial accountability the private surety bail industry provides, pretrial services/release programs continue to refer to our industry as "greedy bondsmen" who only are in it for a profit. What is the motivation of pretrial services/release programs? Many such programs have grown into hugh bureaucratic programs that receive millions of taxpayer dollars in essence to compete with private enterprise. They will fight tooth and nail before they have to lose any staff or have their program cut in anyway - and you pay for it.

If there are so many people in jail who can't afford to pay a monetary bond and are only charged with minor crimes, then such programs should focus their attention on that population and let the private surety bail industry assist the rest. It should be a win-win situation right? Then why are such programs continuing to attack our industry instead of taking care of the indigent citizens using your tax dollars wisely?

Despite the contention that some bonds are too low and not worth the trouble to write, in actuality, there is no bond too low that a bail agent will not write, as such bonds may lead to larger bonds in the future, as is usually the case. Private surety bail also helps the poor through no interest, easy credit terms. And families appreciate that and take advantage of it. Bail agents do not make money off of the misfortunes of others. The private surety bail industry is like many other industries in that it provides a service and if accepted, the taxpayer should not be expected to pay for it.

The private surety bail industry and pretrial services/release programs share much of the same goals. We both want defendants who pose no threat to the public, are not flight risks and who have not committed a serious crime, to be released from jail. The manner of release however is critcal to ensure public safety and the wise use of taxpayer funds. This should continue to be a shared goal.

Public policy affects public safety.

Monday, February 1, 2010

January 2010 Report Card of Florida's Pretrial Services/Release Programs

The Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA) released it's second year report in January 2010 regarding the effectiveness and efficiency of Florida's pretrial services/release programs. Florida has 28 such programs, which are all funded with our tax dollars and run by either the Sheriff or Board of County Commissioners. Yet only 26 programs responded to OPPAGA's request for information - two programs simply ignored the request!

With the passage of the Citizens' Right-to-Know-Act in July 2008, all pretrial services/release programs are required to produce a weekly register detailing information on defendants released through their program, along with an annual report. OPPAGA is charged with monitoring adherence to this legislation and conducting an annual review. Only 24 of the 28 pretrial services/release programs are adhering to the law in terms of reporting requirements, and of those, there is no consistency in how they report their data and outcomes as quoted by OPPAGA:

"Many programs' annual reports do not contain outcome data as required by statute. Further, the programs that have reported this data used different methods to compute those outcomes. As a result, statewide data are not available to compare outcomes across programs or to compare defendants in these programs to those released on bond or on their own recognizance."

Yet OPPAGA is suggesting to the Florida Legislature that they consider streamlining some of the reporting requirements to improve clarity and reduce administrative "burdens" on pretrial services/release programs! And, pretrial services/release programs don't want to have to report on a weekly basis; they are fighting to only have to report on a monthly basis. If such programs don't adhere to reporting requirements as outlined by statute now, and OPPAGA has no authority to sanction them, what do you think will happen if reporting criteria is further streamlined and lengthier time frames are issued for reporting? The public will further remain in the dark!

Other interesting facts highlighted by OPPAGA:

  • Nature of criminal charges: OPPAGA states that most pretrial services/release programs restrict eligibility to defendants with less serious criminal charges.

    This was proven to not be the case in Orange County when defendants charged with serious offenses, many of whom had lengthy criminal/driving offense histories, were routinely being released through the program without ever seeing a Judge. The private surety bail industry was instrumental in getting this release mechanism revoked. Only a thorough review of the release registries will show if this is happening in other programs statewide, which OPPAGA never reviews.

    As stated in the OPPAGA report, "Judges have broad discretion to place defendants in a pretrial services/release program, including those with more serious charges and criminal histories. Therefore, some defendants with violent offense histories or charges, such as aggravated assault and battery, have been placed into pretrial services/release programs. As a result, these programs serve defendants with varying levels of risk to public safety."

    In Orange County, even though release by jail staff was revoked, Judges are now releasing defendants charged with domestic violence, battery, burglary, DUI, petit theft, no valid driver's license, possession of drug paraphernalia and cannabis, controlled substances, trespass and aggravated battery on a pregnant person into the pretrial services/release program. In such releases, a bond should be added as a condition of release as an added layer of accountability!

  • Missed court appearances and re-arrests: OPPAGA states that pretrial services/release programs are required to report the name and case number of defendants granted non-secured release who failed to appear for a schedule court appearance, were issued a warrant for failing to appear or were arrested for any offense while in the program. Such outcomes are important public safety indicators that can be used to analyze the effectiveness of pretrial services/release programs.

    However, about half of Florida's pretrial services/release programs did not report data on these outcomes! Programs reported various reasons for not reporting these data, such as their information systems did not capture the information or that they did not have enough time and resources to collect the data. Then how do you know if you are effective in your release mechanism and its effect on public safety?

    OPPAGA stated, "The programs' failure to report outcome data limited our ability to determine the statewide percentage of defendants served by the programs that violated the terms of their condition. These reported outcomes should be interpreted with caution due to the large number of programs that failed to report data and differences among the programs in how they classified failure to appear rates. Further, some programs counted any missed court appearance as a failure to appear while others did not count a missed court appearance as a failure to appear until the court issued a bench warrant. Some programs computed failure to appear rates as the total number of scheduled court appearances divided by the total number of missed court appearances while others computed this rate by dividing the total number of defendants by the number who missed at least one court appearance."

  • Have pretrial services/release programs implemented best practices to ensure appearance in court and no new arrests: OPPAGA identified five nationally recognized best practices for supervising defendants and reporting information to the courts: provide risk information, effectively supervise defendants, remind defendants of their court dates, inform the court of violations and establish and report performance measures.

    The use of a formal risk assessment is an important tool to determine a defendant's appropriateness and eligibility for a pretrial services/release program. Yet according to a 2009 national survey by the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), 48 percent of programs have never validated their risk assessment tool, thus they are unable to provide the court with meaningful information on a defendant. The PJI survey showed that only 87 percent of programs check state criminal history records, 86 percent check both the National Crime Information Center and local criminal histories and only 40 percent review motor vehicle records.

    The National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA) and the American Bar Association (ABA) both have standards regarding providing, "appropriate and effective supervision for all persons released prior to adjudication of their case." Yet again, the PJI in their most recent 2009 national survey of pretrial services/release programs indicated that the most common supervision options reported are to have defendants check-in by telephone or in person. Many programs in Florida allow defendants to call in to an automated telephone answering system as their preferred method of supervision! No field visits to a defendant's home or work site, no integration of family into the pretrial release contract and limited face-to-face contact.

    Both NAPSA and the ABA make it clear that it is the responsibility of a pretrial services/release program to remind defendants of their court date. Most programs review the court date with defendants after the first appearance and during supervision contacts or call or write the defendant with a reminder date. About five percent use an automated dialing system and 17 percent use automatically generated reminder letters. However, according to the 2009 nationwide PJI survey, ten percent of programs have no court reminder procedures; 17 percent of probation-based, 12 percent of jail-based, ten percent of court-based and five percent of nonprofit-based programs have no court date reminder procedures.

    Failure to appear for court is a common violation among pretrial release defendants. According to NAPSA standards, pretrial services/release programs should facilitate the return to court of defendants who fail to appear for their scheduled court date. Yet again according to the 2009 nationwide PJI survey, only 84 percent of current programs take some action in following up with defendants who have failed to appear and the most common action is to call the defendant and urge a voluntary return to court in 62 percent of the cases!

    Performance measures such as calculating the failure to appear and re-arrest rates of defendants are key factors in determining the risk level and appropriateness for a pretrial services/release program. Defendants who fail to appear cause significant costs to the criminal justice system and new crimes committed by pretrial defendants affect public safety. However, the nationwide PJI survey found that only 68 percent of pretrial services/release programs calculate the failure to appear rate and only 37 percent calculate the re-arrest rate. The PJI calls such reporting, "discouraging."
  • Given all of this information, OPPAGA is still recommending the following to the Florida Legislature:

    • Require programs to report data on a monthly instead of a weekly basis;
    • Clarify requirements to assist in the consistent interpretation and application of the law; and
    • Modify or eliminate reporting requirements that do not directly relate to program effectiveness or cost-efficiency.

    The private surety bail industry contends that all of the current reporting requirements directly relate to program effectiveness and cost-efficiency of Florida's pretrial services/release programs. The agency charged with evaluating such effectiveness has clearly stated that many programs are already failing in their reporting requirements to the point that such programs' reported outcomes should be interpreted with caution.

    Please stand behind the private surety bail industry and demand that your valuable tax dollars be spent wisely and appropriately! The public should have a right to know all reported outcomes of defendants released through a pretrial services/release program and to demand that such programs not become a, "criminal welfare system!"

    Public policy affects public safety!