Friday, April 23, 2010

Hold Government Accountable for Pretrial Release Policies

Note: this article was published on on April 22, 2010

In response to the April 18, 2010 article in the Gainesville Sun titled, "Sheriff opposes bills that could crowd jail cells": The Florida legislation in no way takes away judicial discretion to order a defendant into mental health or drug court programs or other forms of community supervision, such as GPS monitoring, even if the defendant is not eligible under the legislation for taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs. Treatment is an important alternative to incarceration and the bills do not, "undercut" the policy for a judge to order such treatment.

The bills most simply put require defendants who can afford to pay for their own release from jail to do so. Advocates of taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs want the public and our elected officials to believe that if a defendant can't be released under their program, they will automatically languish in jail. The opposite is true. Defendant who have the ability to pay for a bail bond typically do so within 48 to 72 hours. Thus, taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs can then focus on defendants whom they have determined do not have the ability to pay for their own release or who do not have family or friends who can do so for them.

The bills are not a, "bailout" for the bail industry. In a country built on the backs of small business, does the bail industry have a special interest in preserving the livelihood of hundreds of hardworking, independent bail bond agents. Yes. The bail industry is no different than any other small business in its efforts to protect against government intrusion. But just as important, the bail industry has a special interest in educating the public on how their tax dollars are being used to subsidize the release of criminals and a special interest in warning taxpayers about pretrial release practices that affect their public safety.

If local control of taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs had any consistency whatsoever, perhaps statewide legislation wouldn't be needed. However, the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA), the arm of the Legislature that is charged with evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of Florida's taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs, has stated that such programs' annual reports do not contain outcome data required by statute. If they even submit them. Further, programs that do report data use different methods to compute the data, to the point that there is not enough data to compare defendants released on your tax dollars to those released through the private sector. Not only are millions of taxpayer dollars going to fund these pretrial release programs, but then the data can't even support the effectiveness of the programs.

The majority of people across this country are law-abiding citizens. The work hard, pay their taxes, try to raise a family and protect them along the way. They know the consequences for criminal behavior and choose to avoid unlawful behavior. So why then should law-abiding and responsible citizens be asked to subsidize the release of people who choose not to be law-abiding but who instead willingly commit crimes - many over and over again?

Florida's reporting counties allocated $26,582,463 in tax dollars to fund pretrial release programs, which for the most part are created locally by an administrative order and not by legislative action and are not regulated as other components of the criminal justice system. The average cost to the taxpayer to release a defendant under Florida's pretrial release programs based on the funding is $1,511.56 per defendant. Some counties simply decided not to report to the Legislature as required while others only submitted information they deemed important. Is that accountable behavior to our citizens?

Jail populations are down all over Florida and much of the country, yet taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs are using scare tactics and telling your elected officials that the, "sky will fall and millions of more taxpayer dollars will be needed if the Florida bills pass." In reality, counties with taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs have higher costs of detention per-capita and higher per-diem rates than counties without pretrial release programs. In fact, 39 Florida counties do just fine without such programs.

It's time to hold government programs accountable to the citizens who fund them. Public policy affects public safety.

Deborah Jallad
Accredited Surety and Casualty Company, Inc.

Note: to view the article on go to:

No comments:

Post a Comment