Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giving of Thanks and Free Pretrial Release

Thanksgiving is a time of giving thanks and celebrating the holiday season with family and friends. Unfortunately it is also the time for taking.

Crime often increases with the beginning of the holiday season. Burglaries, car thefts, shoplifting, robberies, violent crime and other crimes happen with more frequency and can affect any of us. Sadly, the “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” adage isn’t believed by all.

Our hope is that those individuals who choose to commit crimes in our communities will be held accountable for their actions and not just given a slap on the hand. That accountability starts with how a defendant is released after arrest if they are eligible for release.
The private surety bail industry believes that public safety and the wise use of taxpayer dollars should be considered foremost when making a release decision from jail. Too often career criminals with lengthy criminal and driving offense histories, failures to appear and violations of probation continue to be released on taxpayer funds through pretrial services programs. These programs have been couched by proponents as the ONLY means to reduce jail populations and truly protect public safety. Where once such programs were designed to target indigent defendants charged with minor, non-violent crimes, today they say everyone should be entitled to taxpayer release.

Proponents of pretrial services programs say that if people are staying in jail because they can’t afford to get out, that is not fair! Is it fair to the person who was a victim of crime that their perpetrator can be released on their dime? We are talking about people who have been arrested and accused of committing a crime. The fact that pretrial services programs claim it is "offensive" to ask these arrested individuals to do anything whatsoever to inconvenience them to get released from jail is in-and-of itself offensive.

One undeniable fact is this: when someone is released on a bail bond, it doesn’t cost the taxpayer anything! That bail agent is completely financially and physically responsible for the defendant. Bail agents are small business owners who are trying to make a living and make a difference in their communities at the same time. They bail out good and bad individuals everyday but do so knowing they are serving a public safety purpose. Some people make mistakes and find themselves in trouble with an arrest; others flaunt the law and continue to commit crimes until they are caught. Bail agents work with both sides of this spectrum. And bail agents risk their lives to find people who have absconded from court and their responsibility to receive their sentence.

And now, they must compete against the government who wants to release arrested individuals back in to the community. Who then should bear the burden for making sure those released individuals come back to court? Should it be the taxpayers or private industry? If you release someone through a pretrial services program, let them out the front door so to speak, if they don’t show up for court law enforcement is called to try and find the absconded individual using more of our tax dollars.

You see what pretrial services programs won’t publicly tell anyone is that they target people that are likely to post bail. Why? Because they know they are better “candidates” to show up for court as they have done so in the past. Indigency isn’t even considered in most pretrial services programs. You can be a wealthy individual who has means and assets, be charged with a crime, and still be released by taxpayer funds!

Pretrial services programs claim they are essential because they “monitor” people for drug/alcohol testing or electronic monitoring while awaiting case disposition. Some do and some don’t. However, we tend to forget a fundamental principle and that is, a person is innocent until proven guilty. Our society has taken upon itself to assume a paternalistic role to force people who have not yet been found guilty of a crime into “programs” before they have had a trial and a disposition of the case. To engage in an “intervention” and force people into programs before they have had their day in court is suggesting we know what is best for someone else. People may not have to pay for a bail bond, but they are paying through pretrial services programs, which can add up to much more than a one-time bail bond would.

When pretrial services programs get on their soap box and tell the world that it shouldn’t matter how much someone makes or what crime they may have been charged with in order to eligible for a pretrial services program, it says loud and clear that we’ve lost our path of getting back to the fundamentals of what the pretrial stage of accusation is all about.

So those who commit a crime this Thanksgiving holiday may very well be given an expression of thanks or an act of giving on the part of pretrial services programs . . . in the form of free release on your tax dollars!

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