Monday, April 19, 2010

Law Abiding Citizens Pay for Criminal Behavior

An April 15, 2010 article published on (Manatee County) said two well-known phrases come to mind regarding proposed Florida legislation that would streamline taxpayer-funded pretrial release practices in the 28 counties that have such programs: "politics as usual" and "pay to play." As stated in the article, "the issue boils down to whether Florida lawmakers will serve society or special interests."

Well, let's talk about that for a minute.

The author's intent is to smear and discredit the bail industry with suggestions of dirty handed, "politics as usual" and "pay to play" slogans. The author refers to the legislation as a, "bailout" for the bail industry in an effort to stir up negative emotions towards the business men and women who work in the bail industry. However, what the article failed to tell the public about is the little known agenda of the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA) and the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) to eliminate private surety bail nationwide and their lobbying efforts to promote the interests of pretrial services programs across the country.

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 hard working independent bail bond agents? Yes! The bail industry is no different from other small businesses in its efforts to protect against government intrusion. But just as important, the bail bond 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.

Advocates of taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs routinely tell the public and our elected officials that the people they release on our tax dollars are not really, "bad people" or those that have committed really, "bad crimes." As evidence, Manatee County says their taxpayer-funded pretrial release program allows people with, "almost spotless records who have been jailed on charges in non-violent crimes to be released," . . . but under supervision.

Supervision? A national survey conducted by the PJI indicates that the most commonly used form of supervision used by taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs is an automated call-in system. A defendant is required to phone in weekly to the automated system . . . a system paid for by tax dollars. Is this form of pretrial release supervision truly protecting the good and safety of the greater society or simply benefiting the interest of those accused of criminal acts?

Accountability? Florida's taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs are required by the Florida Legislature to produce a weekly register that details information on defendants released through their programs. They are also to produce an annual report by March 31st of each year to 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. However, the latest OPPAGA report states that many of Florida's pretrial release programs' annual reports do not contain outcome data as 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. They 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? Are taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs servicing the interests of criminals above the good of the greater society?

The, "rub" is not getting more clients to post a bail bond; the, "rub" is allowing people who choose to commit crimes to be released on taxpayer funds. In Manatee County alone, the number of people getting released from jail on taxpayer funds went from 1,500 in 2008 to 2,150 in 2009. Per the article, this figure is expected to, "soar again as this year probation screeners have more time to look into a suspect's background before reporting to the judge."

Florida's Pretrial Release Programs by the Numbers:

The following figures were obtained in the 10-08 OPPAGA report for reporting counties:
  • 140,411 defendants were assessed and interviewed for pretrial release;
  • 57,514 defendants were declared indigent by the court;
  • 19,181 defendants were recommended for pretrial release; and
  • 17,586 defendants were granted non-secured pretrial release.

The reporting counties allocated $26,582,463 in tax dollars to fund Florida's 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 taxpayer-funded pretrial release system based on the funding allocated is $1,511.56 per defendant. For Manatee County, that equates to $3,249,854 for 2009.

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."

Dr. David E. Krahl, Ph.D., Public Policy Consultant/Registered Lobbyist in Saint Petersburg, Florida, conducted a recent review of the average cost of detention per-capita and the per-diem rates of Florida counties with and without taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs. His review actually showed that these rates were higher in counties with pretrial release programs:

Average Cost of Detention Per-Capita:
Counties with pretrial release programs = $91.14
Counties without pretrial release programs = $86.24

Per-Diem Costs:
Counties with pretrial release programs = $65 per day
Counties without pretrial release programs = $55 per day

It seems the 39 Florida counties without a taxpayer-funded pretrial release program are doing better than those Florida counties that have such programs!

So why do you think the 28 Florida counties with taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs are making such a fuss? Do you really believe, based on the type of releases highlighted throughout these blogs, that people who only commit non-violent crimes with, "spotless records" are the only people being released on your tax dollars? Have you ever seen a government program become smaller rather than bigger? Wouldn't you want to protect your taxpayer-funded program if you were funded in the hundred's of thousand's or millions of dollars rather than see it eliminated? Would you really want to share information that shows your program may not be as effective as it claims?

As far as the, "politics as usual" claim: don't be fooled into thinking that only the bail bond industry gives to elected officials in Tallahassee or elsewhere. But check for yourselves. Also take a look at the campaign contributions to some of the Florida Sheriffs that are complaining about the bills. Quid pro quo? Pay to play?

The private surety bail industry does hope the Florida bills, "pass muster in the Legislature," because we do put taxpayers' interests first.

Public policy affects public safety.

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