Thursday, April 29, 2010
Their bail agent.
Bail agents are physically and financially responsible for defendants they release on bail. They know where their clients should and should not be and will arrest them and bring them back to jail if they fail to be accountable for their behavior. Appearing in court is a key element of that responsible behavior. While it is true that not even a bail agent can prevent an individual from committing a new crime while out on bail, the level of contact and supervision with a defendant is much greater than if released on your tax dollars. And, the bail agent uses his/her own resources and funds to find a defendant and put then back in jail. Not your money.
It is not a crime to hold an individual responsible for paying for their own release from jail if they have been arrested for a criminal offense. Yes, there are truly indigent individuals who are arrested for crimes. But if that indigent individual has a revolving door history of committing crimes, should you still pay for their release? What lesson is learned by that? Taxpayer-funded release from jail should be reserved for truly indigent individuals charged with minor and non-violent crimes who have no other resources or family and friends to assist in their release.
Florida's Legislative session ended Friday, April 30, 2010. The private surety bail industry attempted to pass a House and Senate bill that would have streamlined taxpayer-funded release through Florida's pretrial release programs. But some of your elected officials in Tallahassee thought the industry was being too tough by requiring individuals to pay for their own release from jail based on their crime and financial ability. So, we the taxpayers, will continue to allocate millions of dollars to release individuals arrested for a criminal offense through Florida's 28 counties that have a taxpayer-funded pretrial release program. And, thousands more dollars when law enforcement is tasked with trying to find individuals that fail to appear under such programs. But that may take some time because Florida's law enforcement agencies have thousands of active warrants that still haven't been served.
The private surety bail industry cares about our communities, public safety and our role in the criminal justice system. We will not stop advocating for less taxpayer-funded release methods that puts us all in danger. We are strong and we are committed.
Public policy affects public safety.
Friday, April 23, 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.
Accredited Surety and Casualty Company, Inc.
Note: to view the article on Gainesville.com go to:
Monday, April 19, 2010
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
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.
Friday, April 9, 2010
One core service that all agree should not be sacrificed is public safety. How you effectively and efficiently ensure that public safety is held harmlless when dealing with increased budget woes can be a difficult tightrope. Jails are one of the largest expenses county governments must budget for. Overcrowded jails lead to increased incarceration costs for the taxpayers yet releasing potentially dangerous individuals from jail can create public safety issues in the community.
Across the country a growing debate has ensued regarding the manner and method of release from jail. Private surety bail, whereby a defendant posts a non-refundable minimal percentage fee of the total bond with a bail agent (for example in Florida the percentage is 10 percent), is what most people probably believe happens in the majority of the time. However, defendants also often post a full cash bond with the court for their release and can recoup some of those funds if they appear for all court hearings, less court fees and/or fines. There are also notices to appear, where a law enforcement officer will issue a notice to appear to the defendant whereever the alleged offense occurred instead of taking the individual to jail. Another release mechanism is release on recognizance, where a Judge or jail personnel release the individual on their promise to return for all court hearings. The last form of release is one that has garnered much of the debate - taxpayer-funded pretrial release.
When Florida's jails were severely and dangerously crowded in the 70's and 80's, taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs were established specifically to assist in the release of un-sentenced indigent defendants charged with minor offenses and who were unable to post a monetarty bond. Such programs helped lower jail populations while ensuring that defendants ordered for release did not languish in jail. Despite the fact that these progrtams claim to still adhere to this mission, their own release statistics show otherwise.
Pretrial services programs have a place in the criminal justice system as does the private surety bail industry. The core function of pretrial services programs is to conduct a thorough investigation into every defendant booked into jail to include their criminal history, social/community ties, financial status, failures to appear, violations of probation, etc., so that the first appearance Judge can make an informed release decision. Indigent defendants charged with non-violent offenses and granted release by the court, are the type of individuals such programs were designed to focus on - not those defendants who can afford to pay for their own release and who are charged with more serious offenses.
Advocates of taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs want to know, "Who will monitor conditions and report compliance or non-compliance to the courts? Who has the professionally trained staff with expertise to collaborate with treatment providers and key system stakeholders in the criminal justice community? Who does the court expect to supervise and monitor special conditions of release even if they place bond on a detainee? And finally, who should the court system trust with accurate, objective, confidential information?" if defendants are not released under their control.
The answer to these questions already exists. The professionally licensed and highly regulated bail agent.
While ensuring the appearance of a defendant in court is the core responsibility of the bail agent, it is by no means their only duty. Many bail agents provide GPS monitoring and drug/alcohol testing and if not, often provide community referrals to defendants for these very services. A bail agent who bonds a defendant out of jail and who has added conditions of release will work with community stakeholders to ensure the defendant is meeting those conditions. Private surety bail has been used for centuries and has earned the trust and respect from the courts and criminal justice partners. Bail agents take confidentiality very seriously. A bail agent collects detailed information on a defendant and their family, assesses risk and is completely financially and physically responsible for a defendant released on bail. Private surety bail generates revenue for the state instead of taking revenue . . . and, bail agents pay their fair share of taxes to the state as well.
Let's take a look at the type of criminal offenses occurring and the subsequent releases through a taxpayer-funded pretrial services program in one Florida county:
For example, in Orange County, Florida, one of 67 Florida counties, 2,662 individuals were arrested within the last 30 days alone. Some offenses would be considered, "minor" in nature, while others were clearly serious and/or violent ones. While all of these arrested individuals have only allegedly committed the offense they are arrested for, the arrest cannot be ignored. Under our Constitution everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty; however reality is that many of the people arrested every day have prior criminal and/or driving arrest histories, failures to appear and violations of probation. Many have served time in state and/or federal prisons. A thorough risk assessment and investigation into each arrested person's backgroud should be conducted to determine the best method of release from jail that will ensure the person's appearance in court and protect public safety.
According to statistics from the Orange County, Florida jail, their population capacity sits at approximately 85 percent, as it has been for many months. As of today, the jail was holding 1,714 un-sentenced defendants charged with felony offenses and 294 un-sentenced defendants charged with misdemeanor offenses. Of course, felony offenses are more serious in nature and carry heavier sentences if convicted. Proponents of taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs want citizens to believe that the jails are not filled with, "really bad people," and that most of the alleged crimes committed are minor in nature. They claim most defendants are indigent and can't afford a monetary bond for release, so in order to not crowd their jails, they feel it appropriate to use your tax dollars to release and, "supervise" these defendants in the community until their case is disposed of. It makes no difference that many of these defendants are not new to the criminal jsutice system or that they were able to pay for their release in the past. If a defendant says they have no money, they must be telling the truth and thus, become, "indigent."
Take a look at the types if alleged crimes people were arrested for in Orange County over the last 30 days:
- Battery domestic violence (includes by strangulation; when pregnant; tampering with witness to hinder communication to law enforcement; defendants with prior domestic violence charges; violation of injunctions; violation of pretrial release conditions)
- Aggravated assault/battery domestic battery (includes with/without weapon; with great bodily harm)
- Battery/aggravated battery
- Assault/aggravated assault (includes on law enforcement officer)
- Battery/dating violence (includes by strangulation; aggravated assault)
- Aggravated assault/battery with firearm and/or deadly weapon
- Aggravated stalking
- Sexual battery
- Felony battery
- Lewd/lascivious battery/molestation
- False imprisonment
- Resisting law enforcement with violence
- Child abuse/neglect
- DUI (includes prior convictions; .15 or greater; property damage and/or personal injury)
- Possession of cannabis/drug paraphernalia (includes with intent to sell/deliver; over/under 20 grams)
- Possession of cocaine (includes with intent to sell/deliver; trafficking)
- Grand theft 3rd degree (includes up to $20,000; with firearm; with motor vehicle)
- Petit theft (includes retail; prior offenses)
- Trespass (includes after warning; refusal to leave; occupied and unoccupied)
- Burglary (includes possession of burglary tools; occupied and unoccupied; with assault/battery)
- Possession of concealed firearm/weapon (includes by convicted felon; in commission of a felony)
- Robbery (includes with a firearm/deadly weapon; subsequent force; sudden snatching)
- Possession of ammunition by convicted felon
- Shooting firearm from vehicle
- Scheme to defraud
- Driving with license suspended/revoked (includes revoked as habitual offender)
- Driving with no valid driver's license
- Fleeing/alluding law enforcement with lights and sirens
- Violation of probation
- Failure to appear
Do these offenses seem minor and non-violent in nature?
Defendants charged with the following offenses are being released into Orange County's taxpayer-funded pretrial services program, with the majority of defendants calling in to an automated telephone answering service for, "supervision." Rarely is there face-to-face contact between a defendant and a pretrial services officer, no field visits are conducted to a defendant's place of work or residence and no interaction occurs with a defendant's family or friends. Somestimes a Judge may order GPS monitoring and drug/alcohol monitoring. GPS monitoring is done by a private community provider who reports violations to the pretrial services program, who in turn informs the court. The jail has the ability to do minimal alcohol/drug testing but must rely on community providers for more in-depth testing. These costs are passed on to the defendant and many programs charge an, "administrative service fee" for release. Orange County charges the defendant $19 every three months for telephone, "supervision."
So aside from mainly reporting violations to the court, which a bail agent is also obligated to do, what does Orange County's taxpayer-funded pretrial services program really do? What the private surety bail industry has said all along should be their core function: conducting a thorough investigation on each defendant so the first appearance Judge can make an informed release decision. All of the millions of extra dollars spent to, "release and supervise" defendants is unnecessary!
Yet in Orange County, defendants continue to be released into the pretrial services program for the following offenses, despite their ability or non-ability to pay for their own release:
- Battery domestic violence
- Battery on person 65 years or older
- Aggravated battery (includes on pregnant person)
- Intentional threat to do violence
- Tampering with a witness
- Driving with no valid driver's license
- Driving with license expired > 4 momths
- Driving with license suspended/revoked (includes with/without knowledge; revoked as habitual offender)
- Possession of cannabis <>
- Possession of drug paraphernalia
- Possession of Methadone
- Possession of Oxycodone
- Possession of Alprazolam
- Possession of controlled substance (includes sell/manufacture)
- Possession of cocaine (includes trafficking)
- Obtain drug by fraud
- Introduce contraband into county facility
- Petit theft/larceny
- Failure to leave property when ordered
- Obstruction by disguished person/false information
- Destruction of evidence
- False information to law enforcement
- Defrauding an innkeeper >$300
- Criminal mischief
- DUI (includes with minor in car; .20 >)
- Grand theft 3rd degree
- Trespass after warning
The private surety bail industry has always acknowledged the role and purpose of pretrial services programs and continues to do so even with the passage of the proposed Florida pretrial release bills. Our goal is to educate the citizens and inform them on inappropriate ways their tax dollars are being used that particularly affects public safety.
A recent Mason-Dixon poll of Florida voters showed that:
- 87 percent felt if a criminal defendant can afford to pay their own bail for release they should not be allowed to be released from jail using tax dollars;
- 94 percent felt criminal defendants who have previously failed to appear for court should not be allowed to be released from jail using tax dollars; and
- 86 percent felt a criminal defendant previously convicted of a violent crime should not be allowed to be released from jail using tax dollars.
These results are very similar to what Orange County taxpayers said in response to a mailer Accredited sent to registered voters regarding release through the Orange County jail's taxpayer-funded pretrial services program. The message is clear: taxpayers don't want to fund a, "criminal welfare system" that fosters no accountability to the defendant for their actions.
To the detriment of collaboration and the efficient use of taxpayer dollars, advocates of pretrial services programs in Florida and across the country where such programs are being challenged, are spreading falsehoods, propaganda and misinformation regarding the true benefits and mission of the private surety bail industry. Pretrial services programs and two national associations that represent them, the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA) and the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) aggressively support the abolition of private surety bail, the only remaining privatized element of the criminal justice system which costs taxpayers nothing.
Both national organizations support standards that call for, "The abolition of compensated sureties" (NAPSA: foreward; introduction; key principles; standard 1.4). These organizations feel that every defendant, regardless of their ability to pay for their own release, the offense they have been charged with or their criminal history, should be released without any financial conditions or accountability. And, the very taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs across the country that use your tax dollars to release and supervise defendants from jail, also use your tax dollars to pay dues to these organizations that clearly want to eliminate a private industry with a proven track record for effectivenesss and accountability.
Advocates of pretrial services programs are telling your elected officials that if HB 445 and SB 782 pass, their jails will be overcrowded, causing taxpayers to spend millions of dollars to house and/or build new jails. Such programs want you and your elected officials to believe that if someone can't be released under a pretrial services program, they will automatically languish in jail. The fact is, most people who are able to post a monetary bond for release do so within 24-48 hours. If they can't, either their bail is set high, their charge is one that prevents their release, they are truly indigent or perhaps their family/friends no longer trust them to abide by the law.
The private surety bail industry is proud of the role we play in the criminal justice system and the service we provide. If you agree that government should not encroach on private enterprise that already does a valuable service at no taxpayer expense, let your legislators know!
Support HB 445 and SB 782!
Monday, April 5, 2010
ALEC Calls on Florida Lawmakers to Pass Senate Bill 782 and House Bill 445 (Washington D.C.): For Immediate Release
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) today released the findings of a recent Mason-Dixon poll showing that Florida voters strongly favor enacting a statewide law that would limit the use of their tax dollars to paying only for the release of indigent defendants who have been charged with a non-violent crime.
Currently, the Florida Legislature is considering Senate Bill 782 by Senator John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine) and House Bill 445 by Representative Chris Dorworth (R-Lake Mary), pertaining to changing Florida Statute as it relates to the government-run pretrial release programs. SB 782 and HB 445 requires that the defendant meet certain specified criteria in order to be eligible for pretrial release; narrows who is eligible for taxpayer-funded pretrial release; and moves more criminal offenders to a private, regulated and licensed bail system. The bills would still allow for the continued use of pretrial release programs for non-violent, first-time, non-dangerous indigent defendants.
ALEC has made reforming government-run bail a priority and believes this legislation will benefit Floridians. Support for the measure has widened to Florida's voters as evidenced by the Mason-Dixon poll:
- 94 percent felt criminal defendants who have failed to appear in court on a previous offense should not be allowed to be released from jail using tax dollars;
- 87 percent felt that if a criminal defendant can afford to pay their own bail for release from jail, they should not be allowed to be released from jail using tax dollars
- 86 percent felt a criminal defendant that has been previously convicted of a violent crime should not be allowed to be released from jail using tax dollars, even if the court rules that they are indigent;
- Only 15 percent of state voters were aware that 28 Florida counties allow criminals to be released from jail using taxpayer dollars instead of paying for their own release while they await trial; and
- Support for the measure cuts across party lines with 65 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Independents favoring such a law.
ALEC's Public Safety Task Force Director Michael Hough said, "It is clear that taxpayers do not want to be left on the hook to pay the bill for releasing potentially dangerous criminals from jail. Pretrial release agencies should strictly serve the indigent, and commercial bail does a better job of protecting the public from dangerous criminals, while saving taxpayer dollars."
The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, Inc. of Washington, D.C. from March 23, 2010 through March 25, 2010, with a total of 625 registered Florida voters. The margin of error is no more than plus or minus four percentage points. The poll is available at:
Note: ALEC is the nation's largest non-partisan individual membership organization of state legislators.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Out of the 67 Florida counties, 28 counties have such programs and are funded from $77,000 to $5.2 million in taxpayer dollars. The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (OPPAGA), part of the Florida Legislature, was tasked with examing the efficiency and effectiveness of Florida's pretrial services programs with the passage of the Citizens' Right-to-Know Act in July 2008. In their latest report (10-08) issued in January 2010, OPPAGA noted that out of the 28 Florida taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs, only 24 programs responded to their legislative request for information. Of those programs that did report, they did so with varying degrees of thoroughness. Accurate reporting is mandated by the Florida Legislature yet four counties simply thumbed their noses at this requirement and didn't even bother to respond.
Hillsborough, Jackson, Monroe and Seminole Counties provided no information to OPPAGA in order to determine if their taxpayer-funded programs were meeting best practices, ensuring defendants appeared in court and were not rearrested. Of the programs that did respond, half of them did not report data on these key outcomes. As stated by OPPAGA, "the programs' failure to report outcome data limited our ability to determine the statewide percentage of defendants served by the programs and who violated the terms of their release."
So what can we determine from the information that was provided?
From the 24 taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs that provided data, the following statistics provide key information on defendants interviewed and released and what it cost the taxpayer:
Defendants interviewed for non-secure pretrial services release: 140,411
Defendants declared indigent by the court release: 57,514
Defendants recommended for non-secure pretrial services release: 19,181
Defendants granted non-secure pretrial services release: 17,586
The reporting counties are allocated $26,582,463 of tax dollars to fund their programs! The average cost to the taxpayer to fund the release of a defendant in Florida prior to trial under a pretrial services program equates to $1,511.56 per defendant!
Now let's contrast the cost to the taxpayer for a defendant to be released on a bail bond:
Average cost of bail in Florida: $2,000
Cost to the defendant for release on bail (minimum $100 or 10 percent of the full amount of the bond): $200
Cost to the taxpayer for release on bail: $0
Critics of the private surety bail industry say the only thing a bail bond does is ensure appearance. True, the cornerstone of a bail agent's responsibility is to make sure a defendant released on bail does attend all court appearances - if not, that bail agent will have to pay the full amount of the bond back to the court. However, bail agents also determine risk and obtain detailed information on all defendants they release on bail - family, friends, job, residency, social hobbies, social ties etc. - to make sure they can find that defendant at any given time. And, they often will require a defendant to check-in regularly with them or make visits to the defendant as well. But most importantly, the bail agent integrates a defendant's family and/or friends into the bail contract to help enforce conditions of release and as an added layer of accountability. All of these efforts increase public safety!
But let's talk for a minute about the failure to appear and re-arrest rates of defendants released through Florida's pretrial services programs. Of the 17,586 non-secure releases through Florida's programs, 5,402 defendants failed to appear for court or were rearrested for a new crime while under pretrial services release. At a cost of $1,511.56 per release for these 5,402 defendants, the taxpayer had a direct LOSS of $8,165,447 out of the initial $26+ million investment. We are not saying defendants released on bail don't ever fail to appear or are not rearrested for a new crime - the difference is, it costs the taxpayer nothing when this happens as the bail agent is financially and physically responsible for that defendant!
There is an old saying in the criminal justice arena regarding the type of release from jail:
As taxpayers, we have the responsibility to let our legislative bodies know how we feel our limited tax dollars should be spent. In today's economic environment, do you want your tax dollars spent by undefined and largely unregulated pretrial services programs who have no common consistency whatsoever, or through a highly regulated and licensed private surety bail industry that costs the taxpayer nothing to release and supervise defendants from jail pending the closure of their case?
"If a defendant skips on bond they know they have in effect stolen the bail agent's money and the agent has a personal incentive to bring the defendant back to court to recover their money. You can cut off your GPS monitor, cheat on your drug test or lie to your officer, but your bail agent will come and get you."
Public policy affects public safety!