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?

1 comment:

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