Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Reining-in Pretrial Release Programs at the Federal Level

In the 112th Congress, the current meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, composed of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives, H.R. 1885 has been filed by Representative Ted Poe of Texas, to include seven co-sponsors.

H.R. 1885 will require state and local pretrial services agencies receiving federal funding to report to the Department of Justice on defendants released through such agencies. This measure will provide greater transparency for programs funded by taxpayer dollars in an effort to gage their effectiveness in the release and supervision of arrested individuals.

Bail agents, their insurance companies and the American Bail Coalition have been pushing for such a bill at the federal level. Private surety bail has been proven by national, state and local studies to be the most effective and efficient means of pretrial release. Private bail uses no taxpayer dollars.

A special report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that reviewed the release of felony defendants in state courts from 1990-2004 found the following:
Compared to release on recognizance, defendants on financial release were more likely to make all scheduled court appearances. Defendants released on an unsecured bond or as part of an emergency release were most likely to have a bench warrant issued because they failed to appear in court.”
The private surety bail industry will continue to advocate for less use of taxpayer-funded pretrial release programs that historically have higher failure to appear and fugitive rates.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pretrial Release Legislation: The Truth, the Falsehoods, the Games

Attempts to rein in and provide consistency to Florida’s government-funded pretrial release programs through a House and Senate bill never made it to either floor for a vote. The 2011 legislative session went into overtime and unraveled in its final hours.

However, the debate along the way in various committee stops provided much to write about. Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff and Representative Chris Dorworth championed the Senate and House bills respectively and stayed true to their belief that government-funded pretrial release programs have overgrown their original intent.

The bills attempted to limit government-funded release to the indigent and those 300 percent below the federal poverty level to address the “working poor.” It also stated that defendants could not be eligible for release if they had a previous failure to appear, which increases tremendous costs to the overall criminal justice system. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the probability of failing to appear in court was higher among defendants who had a prior failure to appear. The bills stipulated that a defendant who is not otherwise eligible for government-funded release would be eligible if not released within 48 hours, thus allowing even more defendants into the government-funded pretrial release program. Finally, they exempted counties with populations under 350,000 residents.

But even those counties below this threshold came out in aggressive opposition to the bills even though their programs would not be affected.

Senator Bogdanoff was adamant that the taxpayers should not subsidize the release of defendants who can afford their own release. She said in her comments to the Senate Committee on Judiciary that:
"The reason I am putting this bill forward is that I do not believe it is appropriate for government to be picking up the tab for people who can afford bond. There is absolutely no information that indicates that it’s going to cost the county government money. Government likes to expand government, that’s just the way it is, the nature of the beast. And I would say it’s our obligation to make sure that government doesn’t step into the roles where they don’t belong. If we have bonding agents where people can afford to bond, and bond out, the taxpayers should not be picking up that tab.”
Representative Dorworth was even more outspoken in his comments to the House Criminal Justice and Judiciary Committees. He started by pointing out that opponents of the bills will argue that jail populations will increase if the bills are passed, however OPPAGA, the Legislature’s oversight arm for pretrial release programs, found that there is no correlation between a county’s jail occupancy rate and whether or not they have a pretrial release program.

The Florida Association of Counties (FAC) stated that 72 percent of defendants in Florida’s jails are already determined to be indigent, which means that only 28 percent of defendants can afford their own release. Yet FAC and others were against exempting those who can afford their own release from eligibility into the government-funded program.  

Sarah Carroll, Legislative Advocate for FAC, kept throwing out “conservative estimates” stating that:
If all of the people who were not indigent were excluded under this bill, there would be about a $52 million impact to counties. If you assume that 20 percent of the people who are not eligible based on indigency criteria alone, it’s still going to be a $10 million impact to the 17 counties reporting. If you go to one-third of the people who would be ineligible, it’s going to be about a $17 million impact.”
Of course there was no evidence provided to support these figures.

Representative Dorworth said in reference to Ms. Carroll’s remarks and numbers:
So the poor, the people who rightly benefit from the assistance of government are rightly going to receive it. But we’re saying do we want to use taxpayer dollars to take people and get them out of jail when they can rightly post a bond. We’re talking about people accused of a crime here. I just find the whole conversation to be very interesting.”
There was much discussion regarding the “profit-making entity” driving the legislation. Opponents of the bill kept hyping that the bills would shift money directly away from defendants and taxpayers to bail bondsmen by forcing defendants who would otherwise be eligible for pretrial release to post bail. This would increase jail populations and cause millions of more taxpayer dollars to be spent on building jail beds.

Yet the bills would clearly take care of the indigent and working poor while allowing those who could afford to pay for their own release to do so. The proposed bottlenecking was never explained.

Representative Elaine Schwartz asked a representative from the Association of Pretrial Professionals of Florida how counties are able to do this [run pretrial programs] without any state money or any costs to the taxpayers and how staff salaries are paid for those who run the programs?

The Association of Pretrial Professionals of Florida representative had to publicly admit that government-funded pretrial release programs are mostly run by the counties and operated by county employees. And, funded by the taxpayers.

Opponents of the bills even went so far as to say the commercial bail bond industry is making the decision about who should not be released or who should be released. Really? We thought that was the judge’s job to decide. However, they quickly pointed out that their programs don’t decide such:
Florida’s pretrial programs do not choose who they are going to supervise.  Defendants released to Florida’s pretrial release programs are released to the program at the discretion of the court for a valid reason.”
Well folks, it works the same way for bond.

Then opponents tried to claim that more defendants failed to appear on surety bond than under their pretrial release supervision. They conveniently threw out statistics of such success with no statistical outcomes to prove them. On the other hand, the Bureau of Justice Statistics with the Department of Justice has stated that compared to release on recognizance, defendants on financial release were more likely to make all scheduled court appearances. Defendants released on an unsecured bond or as part of an emergency release were most likely to have a bench warrant issued because they failed to appear in court.

Again, Representative Dorworth summed it up nicely:
I think first and foremost, there is no motive like a profit motive and when a member in the bail bond industry posts a bond for somebody, they have an obligation to make sure that person shows up in court or they lose money. And so they have that responsibility if someone does not show up for their court date, they’re obligated to go and bring them in. Under pretrial release if they don’t show up for a court date, we just give the information to the cops and that becomes the responsibility of the government. I would suggest to you that with a bail bondsman if they post the bond, they are responsible for making sure that person shows up for every court date and for a lot of the data that you see on pretrial release, if you show up for ten court dates and you miss the 11th one, they rule you as being 91 percent in attendance. As a bail bondsman, you are 100 percent out of compliance if you miss one court date.”
Then much of the discussion shifted to the needs of the defendants who are arrested for a criminal offense and taken to jail.

One of the sheriffs in vocal opposition to the bills stated multiple times that pretrial programs provide an opportunity for those charged with a non-violent offense and pose no threat to public safety, an opportunity to be released timely:
They can return to their jobs and provide for their families and avoid loss of job, avoid loss of having their vehicle repossessed because they couldn’t make payments because they were in jail and they lost their job. Avoid losing their homes because they didn’t have an opportunity to pay because they were sitting in jail. We all know what happens when someone sits in jail for two, three, four, five six days and you’re working, you lose your job. This provides an opportunity so they can go back to work and keep their job and provide for their family . . . keep their apartment, keep their home, keep their car.”
He went on to say to the Legislature:
But I will tell you and I will plead with you that pretrial release is not a service or function that should be outsourced to the bail bond industry. They have their own business, their own industry; don’t be interfering with our pretrial release programs. Stand up people, do what’s right.”
Well, I don’t know what your definition of a non-violent or a low-risk offender is, or what the victim(s) of a defendant’s crime would think, but I believe that a defendant charged with battery, battery domestic violence, domestic violence by strangulation, aggravated battery on a pregnant person, aggravated battery with great bodily harm, aggravated assault with a firearm or deadly weapon, battery on a firefighter or law enforcement officer, or burglary of an occupied dwelling, has not committed a non-violent offense but a violent offense and they shouldn’t be released from jail on my tax dollars with no financial skin in the game.

But you also have many more defendants released on your tax dollars for grand theft, prostitution, carrying concealed weapons/firearm, possession of a firearm in commission of a felony, possession, distribution, trafficking of controlled substances; cocaine; heroin; oxycodone; methadone; oxycontin; cannabis, DUI (with minor in vehicle, property damage or personal injury), driving with no valid driver’s license, driving with license habitually revoked, trafficking/dealing in stolen property, burglary of unoccupied dwelling, forgery, theft, lewdness and indecent exposure . . . and many more crimes.

All of these offenses can be documented for release.

Representative Dorworth summed up the sentiments of many citizens when he stated:
"I think sometimes we are forgetting that we are talking about people that have been arrested and accused of a crime, and I have found that many people in this Legislature have found it completely offensive to ask those people to do anything, at any inconvenience whatsoever."
But there’s more.

Echoing this sentiment of bowing to the needs of defendants charged with a crime rather than considering how the victims of the crime would feel, several government-funded pretrial release advocates said the following:

A representative of county government said:
There is no reason to put people in jail who don’t belong there, there is no reason to keep people in jail who do not belong there. At home we call this bill the ‘bail bondsmen relief act,’ because that is what it seems to be and I would think the policy of this state is not what the bill says, which is support the private sector bond industry. But to ensure that those people who don’t deserve to sit in jail are not sitting in jail and the taxpayer’s don’t have to pay for that.”
Then scare tactics when a director of a government-funded pretrial release program told the Legislature:
You’re going to hear the devastating impact this bill will have on our Florida counties. If this bill passes, what will happen to victims of domestic violence? Who will be there for them, who will give them peace of mind in knowing there is someone out there to hold these defendants accountable and make sure they do not harass, stalk or batter the victims again? What about the people who need substance abuse treatment but won’t get the help without being forced to? Who will be there for their families? What about the defendants who so desperately need mental health treatment who will give them the resources they need so that they cannot get arrested again? And who is going to be there for the victims of sex crimes? Who is going to make sure these people are not hanging around our schools, daycares, parks and our kids? Who is going to be there for our children? We have an obligation to protect the citizens of the state of Florida and this is something pretrial agencies take very seriously. If this bill passes in any form, you will be jeopardizing the safety of everyone in this room and everyone in the state of Florida.”
Wow! How can government-funded pretrial release programs claim they are protecting the public against all of these offenses by seeing someone for 15 minutes weekly or monthly, if ordered, or by having someone call into an automated telephone system to check-in? More in-depth supervision methods perhaps, such as home confinement or GPS monitoring; this is not the standard supervision given to most defendants released to pretrial release programs. And the private sector, including bail agents, provides GPS monitoring, drug/alcohol testing, mental health treatment referrals, etc. These services don’t have to be overseen by government. Law enforcement ensures sex offenders are not, “hanging around our schools, daycares, parks and our kids,” not government-funded pretrial release programs.

Another of my favorite lines told to the Florida Legislature was this:
To ignore those pleas [of government-funded pretrial release programs] is to lead us to enrich the bail bondsmen on the backs of taxpayers of Florida.”
After all the rhetoric and condemnation toward the private surety bail industry, Representative Dorworth provided this explanation:
The proponents of this bill are a for-profit industry. Apparently to some people here, the phrase ‘for-profit’ has become an insult, and I do not believe that. I think for-profit is what drove America to be great. And I think the fact that people in private sector are able to do a job, should receive some benevolence from the Florida Legislature. The people who work as bail bondsmen are small business people. These are not international conglomerates. These are people who work hard to put bread on the table and take care of their families like you and me. Pretrial release opponents all stand up because they are protecting the bottom line, the revenue that comes out of the programs they want here. And they stand up . . . I actually heard this was just said here . . . they said a profit-making industry is terrible; there’s an industry that wants to make a profit.”
And other Legislators took opponents of government-funded pretrial release programs to task after their lobbying efforts.

Representative Matt Gaetz said he was compelled to debate after hearing several presentations by Okaloosa County who wouldn’t even be affected by the bills. He said the following:
My reaction to the content of that testimony is one of pure embarrassment, because the content of what we’ve adopted completely exempts Okaloosa County as a county under 350,000. There’s not a county within 50 miles of Okaloosa County that will be affected by Representative Dorworth’s bill. And I certainly hope that the taxpayers that I represent didn’t send anyone here and aren’t paying for anyone’s reimbursement to be here to give this testimony that was totally not germane to the matter before us. If there were lobbyists that told folks to be here they ought to be fired. This is an example of trying to snatch victory, or snatch defeat from the claws of victory. It’s utter, utter incompetence. To the content of the bill, I have been educated that pretrial release programs in certain areas can become a cesspool for patronage; they can become a place where there can be cozy relationships between counties, law enforcement and vendors that make a lot of money on these pretrial release programs. To me you define the conservative philosophy; I know everyone defines their philosophy differently, but to me I define my conservative philosophy that if you can pick up a phone book and find three people that are willing to do the job in the private sector, you’ve got to wonder why government is in that space. It’s always good for people to have skin in the game for people that do work for the state of Florida; that’s been our approach to Medicaid reform, it’s been our approach to education reform, and here, if you have a private sector company that has a profit motive to get people in court, that seems to be pretty good public policy.”
Representative Eric Eisnaugle stated he wasn’t planning on saying anything on the bill, but said there was something bothering him enough that he wanted to do so. He said the following:
Initially the argument when people would come talk to me about this bill was that look, simply being indigent is not enough, people are not going to be able to bond out still even with that and as a result, the jail populations would sky high was the argument. Well now, Representative you’ve expanded that, you’ve said 300 percent of the federal poverty level, but yet the same arguments are still being made. My genuine concern is to me there’s a problem with credibility. We’re starting to get into the point where there is a problem with credibility. And I’m starting to wonder if people just want a government program for everybody regardless of whether or not they are rich enough to pay for bond. I for one don’t think there should be a government program for those who are able to bond out, and as a result of the process I just laid out, I’m going to be voting for the bill today.”
Perhaps government-funded pretrial release programs should listen to the comments made by Representative Ray Pilon. He said:
I too come from an area, in fact when I was a County Commissioner helped establish our pretrial release intervention; I do want to have more consistency throughout the state as the Representative has talked about and I do want it to work properly. I think we are moving in the right direction as one of the members just talked about. And then I start doing a little inquiry into facts and figures. And what I find out is that we have a lot of pretrial programs going around the state, certainly not in all 67 counties, certainly less than half, about a third now . . . and the problem I have with the program is that since I first envisioned it in my county, it has morphed into something more than I envisioned it, and it lacks consistency throughout the circuits. It is my desire, whether or not this goes up or down here or on the floor, to one if we do away with them, one I come back next year and create a program legislatively that has consistent pretrial . . . and I like to use the word intervention, because of drug courts and mental health courts. But I just got figures from my own county and only 44 percent of the folks in our local pretrial were indigent; the rest were not. I’m a huge supporter of what I thought were pretrial systems but I think we need more consistency.”
As aptly stated by Representative Dorworth:
A fact of life is that government can always out-do private business. If tomorrow your county decided to start a bank and they wanted to use tax dollars to support it, they could very easily offer higher interest rates and probably give cheaper loans. And they can always do that because they have the benefit of government money. So then what happens, is everyone starts putting their money and doing their loans and we’re doing all these transactions, and suddenly we’re making money on it. And then we say, ‘Wow this is great; we’re so much better.’ And the banks come to you and say, ‘This is not good; this is causing us to lose our business.’ And you say, ‘Well, it’s important for us because it’s a big part of our revenue.’”
The private surety bail industry applauds Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff and Representative Chris Dorworth for their continued support amidst the mistruths and twisted facts presented.

The taxpayers too deserve to have their tax dollars used more wisely.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Support Bills That Ease Pretrial Release Burden

Note: published in the Orlando Sentinel, April 27, 2011

The Orlando Sentinel editorial "Punishing taxpayers" on Saturday was not only condescending to small business owners, but misleading.

House Bill 1379 and Senate Bill 372 simply state that criminals who can afford their own release should pay and not put the burden on taxpayers. The Florida Association of Counties, which derives its money from membership fees using tax dollars, has estimated the impact to counties, if the bills pass, to be between $10 million and $55 million.

FAC and advocates of government-funded release want to hoodwink citizens into thinking these are bad bills because they don't want to downsize the huge bureaucracies they have created. And they have no impact on jail populations.

The Orlando Sentinel should commend, not deride, lawmakers who are trying to remedy this situation. The bills will not only save limited tax dollars but protect public safety as well. The private surety bail industry has a long partnership in the criminal justice system and has proved to be the most effective form of release.

Why? Because defendants who have a financial stake in the game, along with family and friends, tend to think twice about losing their money or collateral. And, they know bail agents will supervise them and re-arrest them if necessary for failing to appear in court or committing a new crime. All on the bail agent's own dime.

Florida legislators should reject the gross inaccuracies being told by advocates of pretrial release programs and protect the taxpayers from further losses.

Melanie Ledgerwood
Accredited Surety and Casualty Company, Inc.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Public to Pay for Bail

The Colorado Springs Gazette published an editorial on April 18, 2011 entitled, "Politicians want public to pay for bail."  While the editorial focused on bills being sponsored in the Colorado Legislature, the message is applicable to any state wanting to pass bail bond legislation that would put the the burden on taxpayers to fund the release of criminals from jail.

We applaud Mr. Laugesen for his editorial in showing the shortfalls of a government-funded release system vs. the private surety bail industry.

Below is the article and the link to the Gazette.com so you can cast your vote on this measure:

It's among the worst ideas of the year
April 18, 2011 7:28 PM
Wayne Laugesen
For the editorial board

We do not need another government takeover of another private industry.

In the midst of recession and general public uncertainty, SB186 would put our local courthouses in the bail-bonding business. It could easily put taxpaying bond agents, who employ thousands of taxpayers throughout Colorado, right out of business. Even worse, suspects who are free on bond would also be free from a bonding agent with a financial incentive to bring them to justice. (Read the bill, read the fiscal note)

SB186 may be the worst bill to emerge from the 2011 General Assembly, and The Gazette hopes it won’t survive the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday.

“It is a government solution to a system that’s not broken,” said Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, who serves on the appropriations committee and plans to oppose the bill. “I’m concerned about conflicts of interest this would create. Judges and prosecutors should not also run the bail system.”

The bill would allow a judicial district to post the bond for a suspect, with the defendant paying interest to the courts instead of a bonding agent. At a bond rate of 15 percent, a suspect with a $10,000 bond would pay the court $1,500 in return for freedom. Half the money would pay for pretrial services, such as drug tests and monitoring services, and half could be returned to the suspect upon completion of the case. If convicted, the remaining money would pay fines, fees, costs, surcharges and restitution.

The Gazette spoke with a variety of the bill’s supporters, who each believe it would create an additional option for suspects to get out of jail. We think they are mistaken. The Gazette believes SB186 would quickly establish a state monopoly, leaving suspects at the mercy of a system that sets bail, posts bail and profits from bail.

“This puts us out of business,” said Bobby Brown, an El Paso County resident who may be the country’s best-known bail bondsman.

The Gazette spoke with Rep. Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, who sponsors a House version of the Bill. We spoke with El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, who supports SB186. We also spoke with Christie Donner, of the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, who supports it. All are trusted sources respected by The Gazette. None could assure us the proposed system would reduce jail populations. None convinced us it would not destroy a private system that serves Colorado effectively. None convinced us the new system would work better than what we have. They just kinda-sorta think it’s a good idea.

Under the current system, suspects go through the yellow pages and find an array of lenders eager to post bond for a fee. Bonding agents routinely make creative deals that result in lower rates, because most suspects cannot come up with 10 percent or 15 percent of a bond. They allow suspects to use collateral in lieu of cash. They assume the risk, and have every incentive to make sure suspects show up in court on time. They travel coast-to-coast to rein in suspects who skip court dates, protecting their reputations and investments.

If SB186 puts private agents out of business, the burden of bailed-out suspects becomes the public’s. We will be left with 9-to-5 public employees to ensure that suspects appear in court. These employees will have nothing to lose when suspects skip court, because they will have nothing invested.

We will likely have more suspects who cannot make bail in the first place. By state law, the courts will be able to charge defendants up to 15 percent of a bond and it’s unlikely our judicial employees will jump through hoops — as agents in the hyper-competitive private market do — to free defendants from jail. Public employees will make no more, no less if a suspect sits behind bars or goes free. Private agents, by contrast, profit from the release of suspects. That means they work hard to make it happen.

Colorado cannot afford a risky foray into government bail-bonding, especially
one that’s likely to kill a private industry that protects our interests and feeds thousands of taxpaying Colorado families. The system is not broken. Do not take chances with a flaky bill that attempts to fix it, with the potential of dire consequences.

The article can be found at http://www.gazette.com/opinion/bail-116477-put-free.html

Read more: http://www.gazette.com/articles/bail-116477-put-free.html#ixzz1JzC6By8Q

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Florida Criminal Justice Reform Measures

Today the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee passed out a sweeping criminal justice reform bill on a voice vote with the strong leadership of Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff.

Included in the bill is a provision that the private surety bail industry has worked hard for during the 2011 Florida Legislative session . . . a measure to restrict the eligibility for defendants released into government-funded pretrial services programs.

The reform bill is restricted to only counties with populations larger than 350,000 and would give defendants 48 hours to find an bail agent or post a cash bond.  The reform bill also stipulates that defendants are only eligible for government-funded release if their income is below 300 percent of the poverty level.  

This measure will slow the encroachment of government-funded pretrial release and re-focus efforts on the truly indigent, nonviolent offender.  The measure will also improve public safety by ensuring the defendant is financially accountable for appearance in court and refraining from further criminal activity. 

The reform bill has now passed through a substantive committee in each chamber and is now eligible for floor action in each.

Public policy affects public safety!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Let's Get the Story Right on Florida's Pretrial Relase Programs

In the March 26, 2011 edition of the Orlando Sentinel, the headline read, “State leaders may steer more inmates to local jails.” The article focused on two bills in the Florida Legislature that would limit eligibility for government-funded release from jail. Also stated in the article was that the, “fight over the county programs centers on certain inmates considered minimal risks — people arrested on first-time drunken driving or minor theft charges and other nonviolent crimes.”

While some defendants released have committed first-time, non-violent offenses, this is not always the case as opponents of limiting such release would have the public believe.

For example, in Orange County, the Board of County Commissioners funds a taxpayer-financed pretrial services program to the tune of approximately $1.6 million. The Sentinel article correctly stated that Orange County’s program has been scrutinized by the bail bond industry.

We would like to tell you why.

The bail industry knows that dangerous and potentially dangerous defendants are being released into the Orange County pretrial services unit every day.  Below are examples of offenses defendants have committed in Orange County and who have been released from jail with your tax dollars.

We don’t believe the victims of these crimes would deem them to be “minimal” or would like the fact that their hard earned tax dollars let the alleged perpetrator back on the street free of charge with no accountability for showing up in court:
  • Aggravated battery with a deadly weapon
  • Aggravated battery
  • Aggravated battery on a pregnant person
  • Aggravated battery w/great bodily harm
  • Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon
  • False imprisonment
  • Battery
  • Battery domestic violence
  • Battery domestic violence by strangulation
  • Violation of domestic violence injunction
  • Tampering with witness to hinder communication to law enforcement
  • Battery dating violence
  • Battery by strangulation/dating violence
  • Battery on law enforcement officer
  • Intentional threat to do violence
  • Carrying concealed firearm
  • Weapons – carrying simulated firearm
  • Possess concealed weapon/firearm by convicted felon
  • Burglary of occupied dwelling/conveyance
  • Burglary to unoccupied structure/conveyance
  • Possession of burglary tools with intent to use
  • Robbery/subsequent force with deadly weapon
  • Grand theft 3rd degree motor vehicle
  • Grand theft 3rd degree
  • Grand theft 2nd degree
  • Racketeering
  • Dealing in stolen property
  • Driving under the influence >.15 and >.20 balance; with property damage/personal injury; with minor in vehicle
  • Driving with license revoked as habitual offender
  • Possession of cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine, oxycodone, carisoprodal, ecstasy
  • Sale/delivery of cocaine
  • Possession of controlled substances
  • Possession of a controlled substance with a weapon
  • Trafficking in oxycodone >4, <14 grams
  • Indecent exposure
  • Retail theft >$300 subsequent offense
  • Trespass in structure or conveyance
  • Aggravated fleeing/eluding law enforcement
  • Child neglect/abuse
Do you believe this lengthy list of crimes pose minimal risks to the public? Well opponents of limiting free taxpayer release from jail do.

But let’s look a little further at just a few of the defendants who committed these offenses and their criminal history. Just because one offense may be considered to be non-violent, you must take the offense in context with someone’s criminal history when deciding the appropriate release mechanism. Obviously this was not done with the below defendants.

Arthur Leakes
Arrested for burglary to an unoccupied structure; possession of burglary tools with intent to use; trespass in occupied structure; petit theft and released on the taxpayers’ dime. Criminal history includes:
  • 12/1990: controlled substance offense
  • 05/1991: theft; possession of drug paraphernalia
  • 09/1991: controlled substance offense (2 counts)
  • 09/1992: possession of drug paraphernalia
  • 10/1992: controlled substance offense; possession of drug paraphernalia
  • 09/1993: theft
  • 01/1995: controlled substance offense; violation of probation for a controlled substance offense
  • 11/1995: escape
  • 12/1995: burglary of a structure; petit theft; resisting law enforcement without violence
  • 03/1996: controlled substance offense; obtaining property by worthless check (2 counts)
  • 06/1996: obtaining property by worthless check (2 counts)
  • 08/1997: delivery of counterfeit controlled substance; possession of drug paraphernalia
  • 02/1998: sale of counterfeit substance
  • 09/2002: possession of controlled substance and drug paraphernalia
  • 09/2003: driving with license suspended/revoked with knowledge
  • 04/2005: theft; cheating; scheme to defraud
  • 10/2007: possession of a controlled substance
  • 8 traffic offenses with fines
Domingo Rivera
Arrested for burglary to an unoccupied structure or conveyance; trespass in unoccupied structure; petit theft and released on the taxpayers’ dime. Criminal history includes:
  • 03/2001: illegal purchase/sale/offer for alcohol
  • 05/2001: battery
  • 08/2001: aggravated battery with great bodily harm; aggravated assault with deadly weapon; theft
  • 07/2002: petit theft
  • 09/2003: battery (2 counts)
  • 08/2004: burglary; resisting law enforcement without violence; criminal mischief
  • 06/2006: trespass in structure or conveyance
  • 02/2008: carrying a concealed weapon
  • 08/2008: burglary; petit theft; criminal mischief
  • 03/2009: possession of cannabis <20 grams
  • 07/2009: burglary of a conveyance; criminal mischief; petit theft
  • 10/2010: trespass on property or conveyance
Jeffrey E. Fork
Arrested for possession of oxycontin and xanax; possession of drug paraphernalia (2 counts) and released on the taxpayers’ dime. Criminal history includes:
  • 01/1993: driving with no valid driver’s license
  • 01/1996: possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia
  • 12/1996: disorderly intoxication and disorderly conduct
  • 03/1999: driving under the influence
  • 06/1999: possession of a controlled substance
  • 16 traffic offenses
Lawrence Corns
Arrested for possession of cannabis <20 grams and released on the taxpayers’ dime. Criminal history includes:
  • 09/1995: burglary of a dwelling with assault or battery; aggravated battery with a deadly weapon; resisting law enforcement with violence
  • 08/2001: possession of drug paraphernalia
  • 06/2004: disorderly conduct
  • 04/2006: driving under the influence
  • 07/2006: reckless driving
  • 08/2007: battery
  • 09/2008: battery/one prior battery
  • 04/2010: battery/prior battery
Michael A. Graham
Arrested for driving under the influence and released on the taxpayers’ dime. Criminal history includes:
  • 11/2002: lewd and lascivious act in presence of child (4 counts)
  • 09/2003: exposure of sexual organs; lewd and lascivious exhibition by person >17 years; sell/manufacture/deliver controlled substance; possession of controlled substance; possession of drug paraphernalia
  • 11/2010: robbery with a firearm; carjacking; aggravated assault with a deadly weapon; resisting law enforcement officer without violence
Jerry Wayne Casey
Arrested for indecent exposure and released on the taxpayers’ dime. Criminal history includes:
  • 09/1987: driving under the influence
  • 05/1996: aggravated assault with a deadly weapon; petit theft
  • 07/1998: theft
  • 03/1999: theft
  • 11/2000: resisting law enforcement without violence
  • 05/2003: burglary of conveyance
  • 11/2003: burglary of a dwelling; criminal mischief
  • 12/2003: trespass
  • 01/2005: dealing/trafficking in stolen property; petit theft
  • 09/2007: trespass after warning
  • 06/2008: criminal mischief/damage property
  • 05/2009: trespass; disorderly intoxication
  • 10/2010: illegal purchase/sale/offer for alcohol
Ronald E. Giddens
Arrested for trespass on property after warning and released on the taxpayers’ dime. Criminal history includes:
  • 10/1989: theft; possession of alcohol by person <21 years; resisting law enforcement without violence
  • 07/1994: battery
  • 08/1994: trespass
  • 05/1996: illegal purchase/sale/offer for alcohol
  • 11/2003: aggravated battery/great bodily harm
  • 01/2005: resisting law enforcement without violence
  • 07/2005: disorderly intoxication; resisting law enforcement without violence
  • 08/2005: disorderly intoxication
  • 04/2009: disorderly intoxication
Thomas P. Costa
Arrested for the following offenses and released on the taxpayer’s dime:
  • R.I.C.O.
  • Grand theft 2nd degree $20,000 or more (2 counts)
  • Theft (22 counts)
  • False/fraudulent insurance claims (4 counts)
  • Obtain property by fraud >$300 (13 counts)
  • Acting as public insurance adjuster without a license (2 counts)
Orange County and the other 27 counties in Florida that have government-funded pretrial release programs continue to claim that jail populations will rise without a program despite an analysis by the Legislature’s oversight arm that proves otherwise. In fact, the analysis of counties with and counties without a pretrial release program irrefutably showed that “there appears to be no correlation between counties’ occupancy rate and whether or not they have a program.”

Yet as quoted in the article, the Orange County jail insists that any attempt to limit the type of defendants released into their program, “could mean an average of 274 more inmates staying in its jail each day.” Where is the proof to show this? Under the bills, defendants who can afford bail will pay bail and will be released. Those who are determined to be indigent will continue to be released under a pretrial release program.  Where is the bottle necking?

An official with Orange County was quoted as saying, “extra costs are extra costs.” What about the cost to taxpayers to release defendants who are able to post their own bail? What about the extra cost to the taxpayers’ for law enforcement to find a defendant who has failed to appear? What about the lost time law enforcement spends trying to find defendants who have failed to appear instead of focusing on crime and prevention?

What about the fact that the 75 percent of Florida voters said in a recent Mason-Dixon poll that if a criminal defendant can afford to pay their own bail for release from jail they should not be allowed to be released using tax dollars?

It is a weak argument to keep trying to convince the voters that bail bondsmen don’t care about public safety and only want to see more money put in their pockets. We live and work in our communities; our children go to school and play on our streets; we work hard to run a small business and pay our taxes; we want our communities safe and we want those who commit a crime to be accountable for their own release if able to do so.  We know our industry is the most effective and efficient form of pretrial release.  We know we are financially and physically responsible for defendants we release on bail.  Not the taxpayers.

Support limiting government-funded release from jail.  It is the right thing to do.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Update on Florida SB 372 - Pretrial Release

Published in:

Tuesday SB 372, a bill to limit those who are eligible for government-funded pretrial release, was temporarily postponed in a Senate committee. The sponsor, Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff was unavoidably detained in another hearing.

The postponement did not discourage some heated testimony from the bill’s opponents. Most notable were Broward County Commissioner Stacy Ritter (who called the bill "The Bail Bondsmen Relief Act") as well as Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats.

It is noteworthy that almost none of the testimony was about SB 372 nor about who should qualify for pretrial release, nor the eligibility requirements being proposed. Instead, testimony was largely a diatribe about the ills of private surety bail and how government-funded pretrial release is superior.

The assertions made by the bureaucrat critics of the bail industry were almost fictionalized with numerous qualifiers like “it is estimated” or “sometimes." And much of the commentary were road swipes at the entire industry.

For example, Sheriff Coats stated:
"the only place a criminal justice system or a liberty decision is governed by a profit-making entity that will or will not take your business is the bail bond industry…”

Sheriff Coats went on to say that some in our industry were actively opposing this measure and were standing with him. Standing with Sheriff Coats were representatives of the Florida Association of Counties and another surety agent.

One further note; it is one thing for there to be disagreements between colleagues on approach or on the merits of a particular piece of legislation or even whether or not to support such legislation...but the fact that a representative of the surety industry stood shoulder to shoulder yesterday with Stacy Ritter and Jim Coats while they bashed our industry and maligned our profession is both disheartening and disappointing.

The role of sureties is not merely to support its agents and advocate for their success but to honor the bail profession and a system that has stood the test of time.

Tuesday was merely a postponement of a new law that will help preserve the bail profession, but one surety agent's overt support of one who demeans its very existence is an insult to the agents who have lived and died in the line of duty.

Read the testimony at:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mason-Dixon Poll Finds Florida Voters Oppose Use of Tax Dollars for Bail

March 16, 2011

Contact: Michael Hough
Phone: (240) 405-7098
Email: mhough@alec.org

Mason-Dixon Poll Finds Florida Voters Oppose Use of Tax Dollars for Bail

WASHINGTON, D.C. (March 16, 2011) - The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) today released the findings of a recent Mason-Dixon poll showing that Florida voters oppose using taxpayer dollars to bail criminals out of jail, as opposed to defendants posting their own bail. Statewide, 71 percent opposed using tax dollars to bail criminals out of jail, while 18 percent supported and 11 percent were undecided.

ALEC's Public Safety Resident Fellow Michael Hough said, "Last November voters sent a clear message at the polls that they wanted elected officials to cut wasteful government spending so it's no surprise that voters so strongly opposed this criminal welfare program. Floridians are strongly opposed to taxpayer provided bail bonds for criminals who can afford to pay for their release from jail."

Floridians' opposition is reflected in the poll results:

• 78 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.

• 75 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.

• Support for theses measure cuts across party lines with 79 percent of Republicans, 65 percent of Democrats, and 67 percent of Independents opposing the use of taxpayer dollars to bail non-indigent offenders out of jail.

The poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc. of Washington, D.C. from March 3, 2011, through March 5, 2011, with a total of 625 registered Florida voters. The margin of error is no more than plus or minus 4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

ALEC has made reforming government-run bail a priority and supports policies that protect the taxpayer dollar and public safety. For more information please contact Michael Hough, mhough@alec.org.

# # #

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the nation's largest nonpartisan individual membership association of state legislators, with nearly 2,000 state legislators across the nation and more than 100 alumni members in Congress. ALEC's mission is to promote free markets, individual liberty, and federalism through its model legislation in the states.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Florida Association of Counties Oppose Limiting Tax Dollars for Release

The Florida Association of Counties (FAC) issued a "Call to Action" today stating it opposes Florida's pretrial release bills, SB0372 and HB1379.

The FAC alert states that any legislation that "limits pretrial agencies' ability to effectively supervise pretrial defendants using locally accepted conditions of release," will be opposed.

Well SB0372 nor HB1379 in any way limits pretrial agencies from effectively supervising defendants.  The bills simply state that if a defendant is not indigent and eligible for the services of a public defender, they shouldn't be released on the taxpayers' dime.  As it is, Florida taxpayers shell out $30 million per year to fund government-funded pretrial services programs, even for defendants who can and should be paying their own way.

The FAC alert went on to say that "pretrial agencies save tax dollars by allowing defendants who cannot afford bond to remain in the community and keep the community ties that encourage law abiding behavior." 

SB0372 and HB1379 doesn't change that scenario at all.  Those defendants who can demonstrate to the court that they are indigent and cannot afford a bond, will still be eligible to be released into a pretrial services program.

The FAC alert also states that "such [legislative] changes would result in an added expense to the taxpayer while more individuals wait in jail and increase the likelihood for jail overcrowding."  This statement is unfounded.

A recent report by the Florida Legislator's oversight arm for pretrial services programs, confirmed this assertion as false.  They examined the 28 Florida counties that have a pretrial services program with the 39 counties that don't have a pretrial services program.  This independent analysis concluded that, "there appears to be no correlation between counties' occupancy rate and whether or not they have a program."

This analysis refutes the notion that pretrial services agencies keep jail populations in check - they do not. 

We would ask that FAC review these reports from the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability before issuing an alert stating inaccurate facts and opposing legislation that would take the financial burden off of taxpayers.

Release Bill Would Unchain Taxpayers

Release bill would unchain taxpayers


Special Correspondent

Published March 11, 2011

Tampa Bay Online

In response to your editorial "Shackle bail-bond grab" (March 8), your readers may wish to consider another policy perspective with the real world in mind.

You argue that Florida Senate Bill 372 "would punish taxpayers to enrich the bail bond industry," when the bill does exactly the opposite.

First, let's examine what the bill does. It primarily changes the law to limit government-funded pretrial release to indigent defendants only. As taxpayer-funded pretrial release was originally created 40 years ago for that very purpose, this seems hardly the "grab" you claim

In fact, what we are witnessing now is that financially well-off defendants are utilizing a taxpayer-funded program to secure their own release when they can afford to pay it. Your readers should regard this as very expensive mission creep.

The premise is simple: If a defendant can pay for a bail bond, then taxpayers should not be forced to foot the bill. This change in the law will remove the burden from taxpayers, not add to it.

Second, let's review some recent state reports that show these government-funded services expanding beyond taxpayers' ability to afford them.

A recent report by the state's oversight agency (OPPAGA) showed that during the recessionary 2008 to 2009 report, pretrial services grew an alarming 13 percent in just one year. This growth came despite the fact that the need for such services diminished, as crime had declined by nearly 7 percent in the same time period. Florida taxpayers now shell out $30 million per year to pay for these services - even for defendants who can and should be paying their own way.

Another report gives lie to the often repeated, but false, assertion that pretrial release programs prevent jail overcrowding. The report examined the 28 counties that have such programs and the 39 counties that do not. This independent analysis concluded "there appears to be no correlation between counties' occupancy rate and whether or not they have a program."

Further, when studying Pasco County, which abolished taxpayer-funded pretrial release in February 2009, they concluded, "Its jail population does not appear to be affected."

These two studies clearly demonstrate the fallacy of the fundamental argument in favor of pretrial release services - that they supposedly keep jail populations in check. They do not, and your statement that these programs "have proved economical and effective" is simply unfounded wishful thinking.

And, to be clear, Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff s bill does not seek to eliminate or "gut" these programs, but will simply keep them available only for poor defendants who cannot pay their own bail.

Finally, your inference that SB 372 somehow impacts the use of ankle bracelets or other supervised release programs is just wrong. The bill clearly protects judicial discretion in such matters and only says that if someone can afford to secure their own release, they cannot foist those costs onto taxpayers.

If SB 372 becomes law, there will be little change in how pretrial services are administered in our state, and jail populations will not be affected. But taxpayers will save millions, and these services, which were intended for indigent defendants, will remain intact for those indigent defendants.
The only fundamental change will be that defendants who can afford to secure their own release won't become wards of the state, and they won't be a burden on taxpayers.

Pete Antonacci is an attorney with the law firm of GrayRobinson. He is a former statewide prosecutor who also served as Deputy Attorney General of Florida.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Florida Pretrial Release Legislation Advances for 2011 Session

Published March 2, 2011

According to recent statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, violent crime is down nationwide and fewer arrests by law enforcement are being made. A 2009 report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that local jail populations dropped by 2.3 percent from 2008 to 2009. This is the first decline in the U.S. jail population since the DOJ implemented the annual survey of jails in 1982. Large jails led the trend with Florida counties Miami-Dade and Orange leading the nation in overall decline of jail populations.

Yet across Florida, 28 counties have a government-funded pretrial services program, which uses millions of tax dollars to release defendants from jail who have the ability to pay for their own release. Government-funded pretrial services programs continue to expand nationwide despite the drop in jail populations. According to the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA), the arm of the Florida Legislature armed with evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of such programs, Florida taxpayers are footing the bill to the tune of over $30 million annually to allow defendants to be released from jail for free.

Florida’s pretrial services programs do not even consider indigency to be a factor in their release decision. In addition, statewide data on the indigency of defendants in pretrial services programs are not available for comparison purposes. Many defendants currently released through Florida’s pretrial services programs have previous criminal histories and have been able to post a surety bail bond in the past, thus such programs are competing with private enterprise.

Florida Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff, who represents parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, has filed SB 0372 to end the use of taxpayer funds to release defendants who can afford their own bail. A companion bill is being drafted in the House of Representatives. SB 0372 simply states that:

“It is the policy of this state that only defendants who are indigent and who qualify for the services of the public defender are eligible to participate in a pretrial services program.”

SB 0372 will not cause an increase in jail overcrowding as opponents of pretrial release reform state. The bill will only require that those defendants who can afford bail must pay it. The bill does nothing to change the release status of defendants who can afford bail; it only states how they can be released. Those defendants who cannot afford bail can still be eligible for release through a government-funded pretrial services program if they are determined to be indigent by the court. As a result, both indigent and non-indigent defendants will be released without impacting jail populations.

As an added measure of accountability, SB 0372 will also give counties the option of utilizing private sector resources of the bail industry to facilitate the release of indigent defendants from jail without using limited tax dollars. An increase in public safety and assurance of court appearance will be an extra benefit.

The private surety bail industry has been proven by numerous national studies, including the November 2007 U.S. Department of Justice Report titled “Pretrial Release of Felony Defendants in State Courts,” to be the most effective means of pretrial release. According to the DOJ study, “Compared to release on recognizance, defendants on financial release were more likely to make all scheduled court appearances. Defendants released on an unsecured bond or as part of an emergency release were most likely to have a bench warrant issued because they failed to appear.”

Allowing defendants who have been arrested for a crime and who in turn can afford to pay for their own release, to instead rely on a government-funded release system, creates a criminal welfare system that only burdens the taxpayers. By restricting government-funded release to truly indigent defendants, the financial burden on taxpayers will be lessened without increasing jail populations. SB 0372 will do just that.

Florida’s pretrial release legislation is a win-win for the taxpayers and for public safety!
Guest Contributor Melanie Ledgerwood is the Director of Government Relations for Accredited Surety and Casualty Company, Inc. headquartered in Orlando, Florida.  http://www.aboutbail.com/agent-center/collateral/florida-pretrial-release-legislation-advances-for-2011-session/

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Florida's Pretrial Services Programs Wasting Tax Dollars

Florida has 28 pretrial services programs funded by taxpayers that provide free jail release to hundreds of defendants each year – regardless of their ability to pay for their own release. Some defendants are court-ordered into the program or court-ordered to be released on their own recognizance (ROR), while others are released “administratively” by jail staff into the program or “administratively” ROR.

The Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA) is charged with evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of Florida’s pretrial services programs. OPPAGA is statutorily required to produce an annual report on Florida’s programs that covers how the programs are funded, the nature of criminal charges of defendants, failure to appear rates and new arrests, compliance with statutory requirements, budget and outcome information, participant fees and compliance with the Citizens’ Right-to-Know legislation.
OPPAGA was asked by the presiding officers of the Florida Senate and House of Representatives to conduct follow-up research based on their last annual report dated December 2010. This additional research compared 2008 and 2009 pretrial services budgets, percentage changes in index crime rates for 2008 and 2009, jail population and occupancy rates and fees charged to program participants.

The annual budget for Florida’s pretrial services programs for fiscal year 2009  range from a low of $100,526.00 to a high of $5,358,619.00. Twelve counties had an increase in their 2009 budget over fiscal year 2008 despite a decline in the percentage of the index crime rate within the county. The following counties who had increased budgets for 2009 are below:
  • Broward: 3.05 percent budget increase; -4.0 percent decrease in crime
  • Charlotte: 1.0 percent budget increase; -16.5 percent decrease in crime
  • Collier: 26.24 percent budget increase; -6.1 percent decrease in crime
  • Duval: 41.40 percent budget increase; -10.1 percent decrease in crime
  • Leon: 120.73 percent budget increase; -7.5 percent decrease in crime
  • Miami-Dade: 9.03 percent budget increase; -6.8 percent decrease in crime
  • Okaloosa: 14.03 percent budget increase; -8.4 percent decrease in crime
  • Orange: 134.43 percent budget increase; -12.2 percent decrease in crime
  • Osceola: 4.26 percent budget increase; -3.3 percent decrease in crime
  • Palm Beach: 0.44 percent budget increase; -4.5 percent decrease in crime
  • Polk: 0.71 percent budget increase; -7.8 percent decrease in crime
  • Santa Rosa: 21.25 percent budget increase; -8.6 percent decrease in crime
OPPAGA also found that jail populations and occupancy rates varied greatly among all Florida counties.  Furthermore, they determined that there was no correlation between a county's occupancy rate and whether or not they have a pretrial services program. 

This fact is important as advocates of taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs have said that without such programs it will accelerate the need to build more jail beds.  We know this is not the case.  In fact, Pasco County eliminated its pretrial services program in February 2009 and saved taxpayers $348,000 annually.  OPPAGA's most recent follow-up report stated that Pasco County's jail population did not increase after eliminating its pretrial services program.  Nor has the population of the 39 other Florida county jails that don't have a pretrial services program dramatically increased.

Florida taxpayers should let their legislators know that their critical tax dollars should be spent more wisely than providing free release from jail!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Moving Forward on Legislative Change

Last month we met with our friends at the Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA) to discuss pretrial release programs and their expansion in our state (12% last year alone despite a 6.7% reduction in crime). At the time we hoped we could convene a timely meeting to work together on a functional resolution for limiting this expansion without the need for legislation. We believe all sides parted in good faith with that goal in mind.

And while that good faith still exists, to date, a meeting has not taken place to discuss this issue.

Government-funded pretrial release programs continue to expand – even while the FDLE reports that crime in Florida is dropping – and they now cost Florida taxpayers nearly $30,000,000 per year according to the most recent Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA) report.

We have reached out to our friends at FSA to let them know that our agents need relief, they want relief, and while some worry about the impact of legislative action, we simply cannot let another session come and go without some action.

To that end, we wanted you to be among the first to know that we are moving forward in support of a bill filed by State Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff (SB 372) that primarily states:
It is the policy of this state that only defendants who are indigent and who qualify for the services of the public defender are eligible to participate in a pretrial release program.

We expect to announce a House sponsor in the coming days and we hope that each and every one of you will contact your local lawmakers and let them know that taxpayers should not be footing the bill for those who can afford bail.

The Bounty Hunter's Pursuit of Justice

When felony defendants jump bail, bounty hunters spring into action. It’s a uniquely American system, and it works.

Excerpts: As printed in the 2011 Winter issue of the Wilson Quarterly

By Alex Tabarrok

Alex Tabarrok is Bartley J. Madden Chair in Economics at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and director of research for the Independent Institute. He writes regularly with coauthor Tyler Cowen at the popular economics blog Marginal Revolution.

Article concluded:

The prerogatives of bounty hunters flow from the historical evolution of bail. Bail began in medieval England as a progressive measure to help defendants get out of jail while they waited, sometimes for many months, for a roving judge to show up to conduct a trial. If the local sheriff knew the accused, he might release him on the defendant's promise to return for the hearing. More often, however, the sheriff would release the accused to the custody of a surety, usually a brother or friend, who guaranteed that the defendant would present himself when the time came. So, in the common law, custody of the accused was never relinquished but instead was transferred to the surety-the brother became the keeper-which explains the origin of the strong rights bail bondsmen have to pursue and capture escaped defendants. Initially, the surety's guarantee to the sheriff was simple: If the accused failed to show, the surety would take his place and be judged as if he were the offender.

The English system provided lots of incentives for sureties to make certain that the accused showed up for trial, but not a lot of incentive to be a surety. The risk to sureties was lessened when courts began to accept pledges of cash rather than of one's person, but the system was not perfected until personal surety was slowly replaced by a commercial surety system in the United States. That system put incentives on both sides of the equation. Bondsmen had an incentive both to bail defendants out of jail and to chase them down should they flee. By the end of the 19th century, commercial sureties were the norm in the United States. (The Philippines is the only other country with a similar system.)
Bail was widely admired as a progressive institution when the alternative was jail, but in the 1950s and '60s many judges and law professors began to think that the alternative to bail should be release on a defendant's own recognizance. Bail looked increasingly like a conservative institution that kept people, especially poor people, in jail. Many opinion makers came to support the creation of pretrial services agencies that would investigate defendants and recommend to judges whether they could be safely released on their own recognizance. In essence, the agencies would replace the judgment of bail bondsmen with the judgment of a professional bureaucracy.
In the early 1960s, the Vera Institute of Justice's Manhattan Bail Project in New York City began gathering information about local defendants' community ties and residential and employment stability and summarizing it in a numerical scoring system that it used to identify those who could be recommended for release on their own recognizance. The experiment was successful. The failure-to-appear rate among felony defendants the project recommended for release was no higher than the rate among those released on bail. Largely on the basis of these results, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Federal Bail Reform Act of 1966, which created a presumption in favor of releasing defendants on their own recognizance.
Although the new law applied only to the federal courts, the states have widely emulated the reforms. Every state now has some kind of pretrial services program, and four (Illinois, Kentucky, Oregon, and Wisconsin) have outlawed commercial bail altogether. In its place, Illinois introduced the government bail or "deposit bond" system. The defendant is required to deposit with the court a small percentage of the face value of the bond. If the defendant fails to appear, he may lose the deposit and be held liable for the full value of the bond. But while a defendant in a commercial bail system who shows up in court must still pay the bondsman a fee, those who do so in jurisdictions with systems like Illinois's get all their money back (less a small service fee in some cases). And the only people empowered to chase down a defendant who has fled are the police.

The results of the Manhattan Bail Project seemed to support the position of progressives who argued that commercial bail was unnecessary. But all that the findings really demonstrated was that a few carefully selected felony defendants could be safely released on their own recognizance. In reality, the project allowed relatively few defendants to be let go and so could easily cherry pick those who were most likely to appear at trial. As pretrial release programs expanded in the late 1960s and early '70s, failure-to-appear rates increased.

Today, when a defendant fails to appear, an arrest warrant is issued. But if the defendant was released on his own recognizance or on government bail, very little else happens. In many states and cities, the police are overwhelmed with outstanding arrest warrants. In California, about two million warrants have gone unserved. Many are for minor offenses, but hundreds of thousands are for felonies, including thousands of homicides.

In Philadelphia, where commercial bail has been regulated out of existence, The Philadelphia Inquirer recently found that "fugitives jump bail . . . with virtual impunity." At the end of 2009, the City of Brotherly Love had more than 47,000 unserved arrest warrants. About the only time the city's bail jumpers are recaptured is when they are arrested for some other crime. One would expect that a criminal on the lam would be careful not to get caught speeding, but foresight is rarely a prominent characteristic of bail jumpers. Routine stops ensnare more than a few of them. When the jails are crowded, however, even serial bail jumpers are often released.

The backlog of unserved warrants has become so bad that Philadelphia and many other cities with similar systems, including Washington, D.C., Indianapolis, and Phoenix, have held "safe surrender" days when fugitives are promised leniency if they turn themselves in at a local church or other neutral location. (Some safe surrender programs even advertise on-site child care.) That's good for the fugitives, but for victims of crime, both past and future, justice delayed is justice denied.

Unserved warrants tend not to pile up in jurisdictions with commercial bondsmen. In those places, the bail bond agent is on the hook for the bond and thus has a strong incentive to bring those who jump bail to justice. My interest in commercial bail and bounty hunting began when economist Eric Helland and I used data on 36,231 felony defendants released between 1988 and 1996 to investigate the differences between the public and private systems of bail and fugitive recovery. Our study, published in TheJournal of Law and Economics in 2004, is the largest and most comprehensive ever written on the bail system.

Our research backs up what I found on the street: Bail bondsmen and bounty hunters get their charges to show up for trial, and they recapture them quickly when they do flee. Nationally, the failure-to-appear rate for defendants released on commercial bail is 28 percent lower than the rate for defendants released on their own recognizance, and 18 percent lower than the rate for those released on government bond.

Even more important, when a defendant does skip town, the bounty hunters are the ones who pursue justice with the greatest determination and energy. Defendants sought by bounty hunters are a whopping 50 percent less likely to be on the loose after one year than other bail jumpers.

In addition to being effective, bail bondsmen and bounty hunters work at no cost to the taxpayers. The public reaps a double benefit, because when a bounty hunter fails to find his man, the bond is forfeit to the government. Because billions of dollars of bail are written every year and not every fugitive is caught, bond forfeits are a small but welcome source of revenue. At the federal level, forfeits help fund the Crime Victim Fund, which does what its name suggests, and in states such as Virginia and North Carolina they yield millions of dollars for public schools. Indeed, budget shortfalls around the nation are leading to a reconsideration of commercial bail. Oregon, which banned commercial bail in 1974, is considering a controversial bill to reinstate it, and even Illinois, nearly 50 years after establishing its alternative system, may once again allow bail bondsmen.

Bail bondsmen monitor defendants, guide them through the court process, and help them show up for trial. When defendants skip town, it's the bounty hunters who track them down. But despite the benefits of commercial bail, bondsmen and bounty hunters don't get a lot of thanks. The American Bar Association has said that the commercial bail business is "tawdry," and Supreme Court justice Harry Blackmun once called it "odorous." After Dog Chapman arrested the serial rapist Andrew Luster and delivered him to the Mexican police, Dog was the one who ended up in jail. Bounty hunting is illegal in Mexico, and Chapman was charged with kidnapping despite the fact that (according to him) he had a local police officer with him at the time of the arrest. It surely didn't help Chapman's case that he was not trying to recover a bond that he had posted, since Luster had put up his own money. Luster was quickly extradited by the FBI, which offered Chapman no gratitude or assistance with the Mexican authorities. As if to rub salt in the wound, the judge in the Luster case refused even to reimburse Chapman for his expenses out of the $1 million Luster had forfeited.

Dog Chapman's television show has brought him and the bail bond industry plenty of fame and notoriety, but Chapman is a controversial figure among bondsmen. The famed bounty hunter's checkered history includes prison time, drug abuse, and charges of racism, and many bondsmen think that "Dog" doesn't do much for their image. Bondsmen don't want to be the dogs of criminal justice; they want to be recognized as professionals working alongside police, lawyers, and judges. They are tired of being called "odorous." Bounty hunters want some respect. The record shows that they've earned it.

The full article can be found at: http://www.wilsonquarterly.com/article.cfm?AID=1775