Friday, March 11, 2011

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.

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