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.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Pretrial Justice Institute Should Tell the Whole Truth

The Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), an organization whose mission is to promote government-funded pretrial release services across the country, recently posted a blog article indicating that Pasco County, Florida Sheriff Bob White was unduly seeking an increase to his budget. The PJI claimed such a budget request would be unwarranted if the Sheriff had not eliminated the jail's government-funded pretrial release program. According to the PJI, there would be no need to request additional funding for deputies to fight crime and make our streets and neighborhoods safer because the pretrial release program, "operated to facilitate the pretrial release of defendants who were deemed to be low-risk, while ensuring high-risk defendants were detained," before it was eliminated.

Really? Only low-risk defendants were released?

Well if you believe that individuals charged with . . . battery, domestic violence, driving under the influence and with a minor; possession of and trafficking in controlled substances, heroin, cocaine, cannabis; aggravated battery, aggravated battery with great bodily harm, aggravated battery on a pregnant person, hindering communication with law enforcement, burglary, grand theft, intentional threat to do harm, carrying a concealed firearm, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, battery by strangulation, driving with license revoked as a habitual offender, driving with no valid driver's license and other serious driving offenses . . . are deemed to be, "low risk," I would venture to say that you would be in the minority. Except for proponents of government-funded pretrial release programs.

Because you see, individuals charged with these very same offenses are routinely released every day into pretrial release programs using your tax dollars with less oversight than provided by the private surety bail industry. Some programs have judges releasing defendants into these programs while others allow jail staff to make the release decision. Legal challenges have already prevented jail staff from making release decisions in Florida counties.

So what else did the PJI not share in their blog posting? Lots.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office eliminated its government-funded pretrial release program in 2007 - not 2009 as PJI stated. This was done as a budget-cutting measure in order to put more deputies on the street. By doing so, the Sheriff actually saved taxpayers $348,000 annually. As proponents of government-funded pretrial release programs always say when any budget cut is proposed for their program, the PJI and pretrial release practitioners claimed that without Pasco County's pretrial release program, defendants would languish in jail for weeks, months and years because they could not afford monetary release. What Sheriff White already knew was that defendants were able to pay for their own release from his jail while others were routinely released on their own recognizance. The Pasco County pretrial release program was not one that was efficient enough to keep so it was eliminated.

And guess what happened?

In 2008, the jail's population increase was only five defendants over the previous year when the program was still in place. When considering the population growth of Pasco County during that same time, there was a net decrease in per capita jail bed days.

Pasco County Commissioner Michael Cox, in a 2010 letter to Florida Legislators, stated it had been the county's experience that the pretrial release program had no effect on reducing the jail's population and through elimination of the pretrial release program, "the reality is that we have seen no measurable increases in jail population." He went on to say that the county's experience has shown that, "defendants appear in court at higher rates if they are under the supervision of a surety agent." In his final paragraph, Commissioner Cox summed it up as follows: "The bottom line is that our Sheriff eliminated an un-needed program that has not caused the negative reaction that many people projected. What it did was allow Pasco County to have four additional deputies on the street."

In addition, Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano wrote a similar letter to Florida Legislators in 2010 stating that, "we eliminated our pretrial release program; some said it would cause jail overcrowding. It did not." Commissioner Mariano felt that defendants who had to pay for their own release from jail were more responsible for their own conduct. In his words he said. "I for one would rather have the private industry tracking down defendants than have to use precious county resources to do so." By eliminating the pretrial release program, "this allows the Sheriff to have more boots on the street and has kept Pasco County safer as a result."

The PJI states that, "$90 million is a lot of money to spend on corrections, particularly when this recession has created so many other pressing needs." Did the PJI not fully understand the other responsibilities of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office besides running the jail? Seems not.

You see, the Sheriff's Office is responsible for providing law enforcement services to Pasco County's 500,000 residents as well. This includes responding to approximately 250,000 calls for service annually in addition to running other critical programs within the Sheriff's Office: the Uniform Operations Bureau, the Criminal Investigations Unit and the Communications Unit. These three critical components of the Sheriff's Office comprise numerous functions and law enforcement services to the citizens of Pasco County. To imply that all $90 million of the Sheriff's budget is used strictly to manage the jail is very misleading and totally inaccurate. And remember, approximately $1.6 million of the Sheriff's budget is allocated to health insurance and pension costs, which are out of his control.

The PJI would have us all believe that if not for a government-funded pretrial release program, judges would simply have to, "guess the risk level" of a defendant in order to make a release decision. The Pasco County jail's Central Booking section provides inmate processing for all law enforcement agencies operating within Pasco County. Inmates are frisk searched, photographed, fingerprinted, entered into and released from the inmate management system. Central Booking conducts various computerized checks for each arrest and release. In 2008, the section processed a total of 37,666 inmates. In addition, both the State Attorney and the Public Defender have information on a defendant's criminal history and community ties during the defendant's initial appearance before a judge if they haven't already been released, and this information is shared with the judge in order to make an informed release decision.

The PJI's real beef, along with their partner, the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA), is that many defendants are able to post a monetary bond for their release and that fact is against all that the PJI and NAPSA believe in. You see, both organizations have as their standards that, "compensated sureties should be abolished." They also believe that financial conditions for release from jail should, "never be used in order to detain the defendant." Regardless of their alleged crime.

The need to have to hire additional deputies in Pasco County, and counties all across our country, in order to keep our neighborhoods and communities safe may not be one we would all choose in a perfect world. In these tough economic times many government and private organizations alike have to make hard budget decisions. But public safety should be the last element cut if at all possible. Taking money from the Sheriff to hire additional deputies, which based on his experience and wisdom as Sheriff is not something he would just ask for if not needed, and instead using those taxpayer funds to re-establish a pretrial release program based on the philosophy that financial conditions should never be imposed for release from jail - regardless of the alleged crime or the ability to pay for release - is not a, "re-evaluation of how to best spend taxpayer dollars on community corrections."

Only a person with a heart of stone could read the PJI's advice without laughing!