Friday, March 19, 2010

The Importance of Bail vs. Taxpayer-Funded Pretrial Release

Why is bail important in the criminal justice system?

Bail, provided by a licensed surety agent, is an insurance contract that guarantees the appearance of a defendant in court. An estimated 30 percent of defendants released on taxpayer-funded pretrial release remain at large after one year from failing to appear for court. The percentage for bail? 19 percent! Private surety bail has the lowest failure to appear and fugitive rates.

Bail is guaranteed by the 8th and 14th admendments in the United States Constitution: many defendnant's don't have the full amount of the bond to post in order to be released from jail so they borrow usually 10 perent of the face value of the bond from a bail agent to get out of jail, much like you pay for any other insurance policy. The bail agent then accepts financial and physical responsibility for that defendant.

Bail relieves jail overcrowding: by facilitating the release of defendants who can afford to pay a bond, private surety bail helps take away the burden of jail overcrowding and paves the way for a taxpayer-funded pretrial release program to focus on indigent defendants charged with non-violent crimes to be released. After all, these are the very people who need help the most - not those who can pay for their own way out of jail.

Bail is privately-funded and costs the taxpayer nothing: your critical tax dollars can then be use for other important services and programs.

Bail agents are accountable financially and physcially for defendants: bail agents are financially responsible for defendants they release on bail. If a defendant fails to appear for court the bail agent must either produce the defendant or pay the full amount of the bond to the court.

Bail agents pay all costs of extradition for defendants who fail to appear and are re-arrested: under a pretrial release program more of your tax dollars are used to try and apprehend criminals who fail to appear.

Bail agents invest and instill financial incentives by integrating family and friends as guarantors of the bond. Defendants are held accountable through their contract with the bail agent.

Bail reduces county costs.

Bail agents and the insurance company they represent are accountable to the court.

Promoting public safety . . . reinforcing accountability!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pretrial Release: Florida House Bill 445 Passes Committee Unanimously

Florida House Bill 445, sponsored by Representative Chris Dorworth, passed the Public Safety & Domestic Security Policy Committee by unanimous vote on Tuesday, March 9, 2010! Chaired by Representative Kevin Ambler, the committee acknowledged the benefits of the bill, which would limit taxpayer-funded pretrial release to the indigent who are not charged with a violent offense. The bill also limits eligibility to anyone who has failed to appear in the past or has been convicted of a violent crime. The bill is a win-win for the taxpayers and the indigent, who often are the ones passed over by pretrial services programs while they release other defendants who are able to post a bond.

A handful of people spoke against the bill claiming the mentally ill or poor people would remain in jail. It is obvious they didn't read the bill as poor people are the ones the bill would help and the judge still has full judicial discretion to release anyone who doesn't qualify for release under the bill to be released on their own recognizance and ordered into mental health treatment, drug treatment or other special programs. GPS monitoring and drug testing can also be ordered and accessed by private providers in the community.

Commissioner Bill Proctor from Leon County, who created the county's pretrial release program, was one of the individuals against the bill. If he had done his homework, he would have realized the benefits of the bill to the indigent as well as the savings taxpayers would enjoy by not having to spend more tax dollars to find people who fail to appear for court when released by pretrial services. He claimed there were no statistics that show any difference in failure to appear rates for release on bond or pretrial services; he must not have read the two dozen national studies that have been conducted that show release on a bail bond has the lowest failure to appear rate than any other form of release!

Even the Tallahassee Democrat saw the light when they reported that Proctor, "protested Tuesday against a plan to forbid release of dangerous suspects and know bail jumpers without posting bail." What is relevant to this whole argument is the fact that public safety will be increased while the burden on taxpayers will be decreased.

The bill next goes before the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee the week of March 22, 2010. If you care about your safety and the wise use of your tax dollars, communicate with your Representatives and Senators and let them know you support this important bill!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Second Whistle Blower Speaks Out on Pretrial Services

Virginia is trying to get similar legislation passed as Florida is that would limit pretrial services to the indigent, nonviolent and allow the private surety industry to assist those defendants that can afford to post their own bail and based on their offense.

One whistle blower, Erika Matthews, a former pretrial services investigator for a pretrial services program in Virginia, has already come forward and exposed pretrial services for their true tactics and now a second whistle blower, Steve Carneal, a senior probation officer with Culpeper Criminal Justice Services in Virginia, has also come forward in support of House Bill 728 to limit pretrial services to the indigent and nonviolent. Read his message below that was sent to VA legislative committee members determining passage of the bill:

"To Those Who Serve This Great Commonwealth: Vote Yes to HB 728:

OK, I know many of my colleagues in the community corrections/pretrial may be contacting you in opposition to this bill. This is because their job and mine could be at stake if numbers are reduced. As a taxpayer, I believe this is the wrong approach to how government should operate. This bill expands jobs for bondsmen, increasing their pay which could stimulate the economy and it is better to expand private businesses instead of government in these tough economic times. That is why I believe this bill is a good bill.

I do not believe people should stay in jail if they truly cannot afford it, but there has to be a way to prove this. Many people do not have jobs but many also choose not to look. I have a personal knowledge of this as many of my colleagues do as well.

Due to the recent budget restraints my life has already been affected by the reduction of funding. My salary has been frozen for three years, insurance had increased, forcing me to reduce that benefit to pay more out of pocket and stop me from going to the doctor unless near death, and this year we are facing pay cuts and VRS cuts to offset skyrocketing government spending. I am set to lose three good friends that are in county positions in Culpeper alone. My wife is a school teacher - enough said there.

So with all I have at stake you would think with all this I would be asking for more funding for my program and for pretrial, but again, because my job or my family's jobs are at stake is not a good reason to expand government if it is not needed. Many Community Corrections and pretrial programs have slightly inflated numbers due to taking or holding cases that quite honestly should not be on probation. An example would be a no valid operator's license or fail to pay fines and costs. Some programs have become the dumping grounds for the courts as a baby-sitting or collection agency instead of trying to effectively facilitate change in their lives. This is not my idea of probation and pretrial and I do not believe that was the intention lawmakers had when drafted the Comprehensive Community Corrections Act Grant.

There is a shift in ideology to using more evidence-based practices in probation and pretrial services such as motivational interviewing techniques to help with facilitating this change, and preliminary data looks good, but Directors have to look at ways to cut numbers from the court to really make a difference, and I believe reducing numbers overall will make us more effective. Directors have become passive with judges because referrals are steady, but our goal is reducing recidivism not kingdom building. It they don't, then we are throwing money at a problem with no real solution.

Now is the perfect time to make cuts that have been needed for many years but lawmakers on both sides of the fence (Republicans and Democrats) are fearful to make. We cannot be lie California and many other states that cannot make budget and are so far behind the eight ball that may never recover. It is time to make cuts and turn more control back over to private business.

Again, I am not against pretrial but I can personally tell you too many people are on pretrial that can afford to pay for the services that are provided at taxpayers' expense. It is time to take in the belt. My family has and will continue to make cuts in our lifestyle yet serve the Commonwealth and its' citizens faithfully even if no longer within the realms of government.

I thank each of you for your service and I pray for each of you to seek God's wisdom on how to proceed in this and many other matter concerning this great Commonwealth. I ask you to vote yes to HB 728 to help ease the taxpayers' burden in this tough economic time. I look forward to hearing how you vote on this bill."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Pretrial Release Facts - National Public Radio

National Public Radio recently did a three-part series on pretrial release in jails across the country; so many of the points in the series were completely nonfactual, that the private surety bail industry needed to set the record straight and let the taxpayers know the truth. From the series, it was clear that NPR already had a bias toward the continuation of taxpayer-funded pretrial services/release programs.

Mr. Dennis Bartlett, Executive Director of the American Bail Association and one of the foremost experts on bail and pretrial services, recently wrote an article to refute facts highlighted in the NPR series:

"NPR mentioned in their series that about 500,000 inmates are languishing in jails for want of bail. A quick check of the data published by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) shows that indeed, there are about 500,000 non-convicted defendants held in the nation's jails. They constitute about 63 percent of the total jail population of about 780,000 inmates.

The NPR story is fallacious in that it gives the impression of a great mass of unfortunates stuck in jail, like some medieval black hole in Calcutta. This is far from the case. The cohort of 500,000 non-convicted defendants is not static. Over a year almost the entire cohort turns over by people coming into the system on new arrests and people exiting on bail, going back to freedom after case closure or getting on the Department of Corrections bus to head for the penitentiary after conviction.

Some will not get out on bail. Why? Some further facts which are all supported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics:
  • Half of those arrested were already on probation, out on bond or parolees
  • Seven-out-of-ten arrested had prior convictions
  • Four-out-of-ten had served three or more sentences
  • Over 60 percent were on regular drug usage, 40 percent were intoxicated at the time of the offense and 42 percent were current enrollees in a substance abuse program
  • Jails are also the largest repository for the mentally ill

Recently the Pretrial Justice Institute was granted a $250,000 award by the Public Welfare Foundation to justify the expansion of pretrial services by means of an educational program aimed at state lawmakers to handle the horde of 500,000 inmates stuck in jail without bail. Initially at least, and in light of the BJS figures above, it appears that the grounds for getting this grant are spurious."

Thanks Dennis for your ongoing contributions to the private surety bail industry!

More corrections regarding the NPR series to come . . .