Thursday, December 12, 2013

Public Safety: we are all responsible

As the end of 2013 approaches and the beginning of 2014 arrives, the debate on how best to enhance and protect public safety will, and should, continue.  What should not continue are the negative attacks focused on what mechanism should be used to release arrested individuals from jail.  Instead, we should work together and do what each system does best to make our communities safer for all of us.

Let’s face it.  In every walk of life and profession, there are bad influences and corruption despite all efforts to prevent it: politicians, law enforcement, clergy, government, criminal justice, banking, education etc.  Do we paint this negative brush from a few on all the rest?  Why focus on the bad deeds of the few without looking at the honorable and good deeds of thousands?

Individuals in the commercial bail industry, for the most part, are honorable men and women who run small businesses, who are passionate about the service they provide in the criminal justice system and are proud to save taxpayers millions of dollars.  Individuals employed by taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs are proud to provide the court with validated and informed risk assessments to make safe, fair and effective pretrial release decisions.  Both systems offer the criminal justice system tools to hold offenders accountable to the court.

Yet, the debate rages on about the, “ravages of what we call bail in America,” by proponents of taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs claiming that financial release disadvantages the poor.  The commercial bail industry stresses that it costs taxpayers nothing while assuming the financial risk for the defendant and in fact, adds money back to county coffers through the payment of premium taxes for every bond written.

Yes, the commercial bail industry provides a service in return for a non-refundable fee.  Just like non-refundable rental deposit fees, real estate fees, insurance fees, educational/tuition fees, airline fees, pet deposit fees, broker fees, ticket/event fees, professional service fees, travel fees, early termination fees and banking fees, as examples, the non-refundable fee to a bail agent is the cost of doing business and assuming the risk of appearance for the defendant.  This non-refundable fee is not a “fine” or something to be charged as punishment.  So why, when so many other industries also charge and collect non-refundable fees, is the bail industry brushed as, “taking profits by making it more expensive for people of lesser means to move through the criminal justice system?

Bail agents don’t set bail amounts.  And while some manipulate the system by charging less than the mandated premium, most veteran bail agents work with legislators and departments of insurance to regulate the industry to prevent such abuses.  Illegal and unethical tactics can destroy and cast a negative eye on an honorable industry.

The purpose of bail is to guarantee the appearance of a defendant at court and no other form of pretrial release is more effective at doing so than the commercial bail industry.  The industry agrees that the threat to public safety and flight risk are important considerations when setting bail.  We also agree that taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs that conduct a validated risk assessment on defendants for the court to determine a release mechanism, is also an important tool.  Any release mechanism should be tied to risk.  Judges have the authority to release any defendant on their own recognizance at any time.  Poor, non-violent and low-risk defendants should not “languish” in jail if they cannot afford financial release because the judge already has the authority to release them.  The commercial bail industry is not the culprit or the one keeping such defendants in jail. 

Proponents of taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs advocate for the elimination of financial release and of the end of the commercial bail industry.  What do they want instead?  Timothy Murray, chair of the Pretrial Justice Institute, said if a defendant is not a threat to public safety or a serious flight risk, they should be released and expected to return for their court date on their own, with the aid of a pretrial monitoring system.  So in essence, this means eliminating a private industry that uses no taxpayer dollars to ensure the appearance of a defendant in court and replacing it or expanding pretrial services programs using taxpayer dollars.  The government then becomes a bail agent releasing and supervising defendants instead of private industry.  The claim is that in the end, such a system will save taxpayers money by freeing up jail beds – but in reality such taxpayer “savings” are just being used elsewhere within government.  And if the defendant misses court more of your tax dollars will be spent to locate and re-arrest them.

The bail industry offers another scenario.

Just imagine the effect on public safety and offender accountability if both systems worked together to ensure the defendant appeared at all required court hearings, refrained from future criminal activity and refrained from violating any other condition of release.   

Defendants who warranted financial bail based on their offense or a judge’s order but ones that a judge determined would benefit from additional layers of supervision, could be released under both systems: 
  • The taxpayer-funded pretrial services program would enforce conditions of release such as drug or alcohol testing, face-to-face or telephone supervision or other conditions of release;
  • The bail agent would be responsible for ensuring appearance at all required court hearings;
  • Any concerns regarding violation of conditions of release or a possible failure to appear could be addressed collaboratively between the two systems;
  • Ongoing and effective communication would occur between both systems supervising a defendant;
  • Defendants would know that both the taxpayer-funded pretrial services program and their bail agent were working together to ensure system accountability and public safety.
A win-win situation with both systems together providing the tools and expertise they have instead of singularly.  No fighting, no blaming, no one-upmanship – just helping to make the criminal justice system stronger. 

The other aspects of the system should work effectively as well:
  • Defendants whose offense(s) warranted financial bail and that could afford their own release either with a cash bond or surety bond with supervision from a bail agent would pay for it and be released;
  • Defendants whose offense(s) warranted financial bail and that could afford their own release but needed additional layers of supervision, could be released on a bail bond and also supervised through a taxpayer-funded pretrial services program;
  • Defendants who were indigent or poor and based on their offense, criminal history and risk assessment were eligible for release and supervision under a taxpayer-funded pretrial services program, could be released; 
  • Defendants who were eligible to be released on their own recognizance or a promise to appear for court based on their offense and criminal history could be released;
  • Defendants who could not afford financial release but whose offense was serious and/or violent and/or had lengthy criminal histories would remain in jail until the court decided the appropriate mechanism for release, if at all.
Both the poor and rich would have fair and consistent release mechanisms. 
We hope that in 2014 across this great country of ours that such magical and possible scenarios can be attained.  The commercial bail industry is ready and willing to be partners in such an endeavor. 

Wishing all a wonderful holiday season and the very best in 2014.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Thanksgiving Season

Thanksgiving Day is a national holiday celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada as a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year.  When we are thankful for something, it means we are grateful and appreciative.

While there are many things to be thankful for, this season we give thanks to the many men, women and families who work 24/7 to support their families while assisting loved ones and friends of others.  Small business owners who contribute to our economy and save taxpayers millions of dollars annually.  Individuals who often don’t receive the respect and thanks they deserve for an often risky profession.

The men, women and families employed in the commercial bail industry.

The commercial bail industry employs thousands of bail agents and support personnel across the country.  The industry provides significant savings to taxpayers by making sure defendants appear for court.  The system is user-funded and doesn’t rely on limited taxpayer dollars that could be better used in the criminal justice system.  The commercial bail industry reduces jail populations, saving taxpayers millions of dollars in jail beds, and has been proven by numerous studies to have the lowest failure to appear and recidivism rates.

The commercial bail industry is a vital component in the criminal justice system.  Yet there are opponents that continue to promote a negative connotation of the industry through falsehoods and scare tactics.

They blame the industry for the “skyrocketing cost of bail” when in reality, the industry has no role in setting bail amounts; the court does.  They blame the industry for “profiting off mass incarceration” when in reality, the role of the bail agent is to secure the release of defendants from jail.  They blame the industry for our “devastating effect lobbying has on prisoners and their families” when in reality, the industry fights for legislation that improves appearance and increases public safety.  Most legislation increases the regulation and accountability of the bail industry, not lessens it.

Bail is an insurance product; a contract between the court, defendant and a surety.  It is not a “loan from a bondsman with a catch;” much like any other insurance product, the small non-refundable fee paid to secure the release of a defendant from jail must cover all expenses, insurance costs and fugitive recovery fees if necessary.

So let’s talk about what release system opponents of commercial bail want instead.

Pretrial Services programs are taxpayer-funded; some use a risk assessment tool to determine the risk level of a defendant.  Many times the defendant is never interviewed but just assessed on paper.  Proponents of this system believe that financial release should be abolished and that defendants should be released via taxpayer funds or on their own recognizance.

Originally designed to assist the release of non-violent, indigent defendants who could not afford financial release, today it doesn’t matter if you can afford your own release from jail.  A risk assessment will determine your risk level and type of supervision, if any; no financial accountability on the part of the defendant is needed.

The commercial bail industry has vocally and repeatedly stated that there is a place for taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs in the criminal justice system; however they should focus on indigent individuals who are arrested for a non-violent offense and who are not career criminals.  Both systems should work together to enhance public safety.

Proponents of taxpayer-funded release systems want the public to believe that only poor/indigent people who have committed a minor offense are released into such programs.  This is true for some defendants but is not necessarily the norm. 

Defendants are charged with and released into taxpayer-funded release programs for a wide gamete of crimes : battery, battery domestic violence, battery dating violence, resisting law enforcement with and without violence, drug offenses, grand theft, petit theft, driving offenses etc. - both for misdemeanor and felony offenses and many with lengthy criminal histories. 

Many of the crimes are considered “victimless crimes” or “non-violent crimes,” while others are not.  The question to ask is how taxpayers want millions of their dollars to be used?  Is it to secure the release of first-time, non-violent offenders or those that continue to commit crimes and/or those that commit a crime against others?  Do taxpayers want their limited dollars used to minimally supervise such defendants or do they wish to rely on an industry that has a long history and partnership in the criminal justice system and one that uses their own resources to hold defendants accountable?

The wisest decision would be to let each system do what it does best.  The commercial bail industry knows how to supervise defendants and make sure they return for court; if they don’t, it is not the taxpayer who pays but the bail agent.  Taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs are good at making sure indigent defendants gain access to programs and services they need, defendants with mental health or substance abuse issues get the resources to help them and that offenders who have committed a minor, first-time offense get back on track. 

The elimination of financially-secured release and of a large and effective industry is not the answer.  Using our resources appropriately is.

So this Thanksgiving holiday, let us be grateful and appreciative for the role that we all can play in making our communities safer.  

Wishing all a happy holiday season.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Commercial Surety Bail Update: 2013

The Justice Policy Institute (JPI) recently published a document entitled, “Bail Reform Update, 2013.”  As usual, JPI couched “bail reform” in a way that makes taxpayer-funded jail release sound like the next best thing since sliced bread.

JPI of course referenced their three research reports stating they show, “The weakness of money bail and for-profit bail bonding in the criminal justice system.”  They admit that most jurisdictions continue to rely on money bail for the pretrial release of defendants from jail; however they falsely state that money bail has, “Shown time and time again to be ineffective, unfair and expensive, threatens public safety and puts money in the pockets of the for-profit bail bonding industry.”

I guess all of the national research studies that have been conducted on the differences between secured and unsecured bail, studies that irrefutably show that secured release is the most effective and efficient means of pretrial release, just got it all wrong.

The National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA) also just celebrated its 41st year with their annual convention in Orlando, FL.  The opening session laid out the theme for the conference: “The current criminal justice system dehumanizes the people it is supposed to protect and drives those responsible for ensuring the system works to lose sight of justice.”  Makes you wonder who they are referring to with that statement: people arrested for an alleged crime or the victims of the alleged crime.

All of the discussion focused on what taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs want people to believe: research shows that people can be released from jail on non-monetary means and they will not pose a danger to the community or be a flight risk. 

The Pretrial Services Agency for DC, funded by federal tax dollars, is held out as the model program for releasing defendants on non-monetary conditions.  The agency is well resourced and judges are not elected but appointed by the President for fifteen year terms, which gives them some “political cover” in making release decisions.  Everyone arrested in DC is presumed to be released on personal recognizance (ROR) unless a judge deems otherwise; for the last two years about 3,000 people have been released ROR.  Every jail in the country should release defendants this way!

Proponents of a taxpayer-funded jail release system continue to try and convince the public that no defendant deserves to be held in jail with money bail; a risk assessment is all that is needed to determine the conditions of release.  What are such proponents saying about money bail?
 “The ravages of what we call bail in America; a ridiculous game that disadvantages those who are the least equipped and resourced to defend themselves.”
When you look at who can get out it’s the drug dealer who has his pals in the back with a wad of money and the indigent is going to be staying in no matter the outcome.”
Why send a person all the way down to the jail cells when a risk analysis says they will show up for court; one night or day in jail can really impact an individual; when arrested we are impacting their family, their work, their whole life.  Many people going through the system don’t have smart phones for reminders, so other little things to get them to court are important instead of paying money they don’t have.  If they pay a bond, now they can’t pay their rent or buy food.”
You pay a bail bondsman ten percent and then you get arrested again and the bail goes up even more and you pay the bail agent more money for the next time you get bailed out.  It is very illogical and begs the question why are we doing this; people just think that is how it’s done.”
If someone is arrested on a $50K bond and can’t even come up with the ten percent for a couple of weeks, look what that does for family, work . . . that is pretty disruptive.  People being arrested don’t have salaried jobs right?  If they don’t show up for work the next day they are fired.”
We know that a system that we have, that can only be described as stupid, is also toxic.”
Yet with all of this posturing and negative attacks on the commercial bail industry, proponents of taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs admit that while there have been spurts of momentum for change away from money bail in the criminal justice system, they often seem to “fizzle” away. 

Even at the NAPSA conference in response to a conference plenary, the Executive Director of the Pretrial Justice Institute stated, “The speaker told us one thing that embarrassed us and caused us to look inside and that was simply this: when we come into the system we expect you to know what you are doing.  But do we know what we are doing?  We know what we want to do; we need to know why we do it.  But if we are going to be candid with ourselves, over the last 50 years we really haven’t known how to do it and how to do it right.”

So again we wish to take this opportunity to share how the commercial bail industry, evidenced through national and state research projects, has been proven to save taxpayers millions of dollars with a direct impact on public safety:
  • Commercial bail lowers jail populations at no taxpayer expense; it is user-funded;
  • Failure to appear on unsecured release is twice as high as those released on commercial bail;
  • Defendants released on unsecured release were most likely to have a bench warrant issued due to a failure to appear;
  • The recidivism rate is almost twice as high for unsecured release vs. commercial bail;
  • A defendant is more than twice as likely to fail to appear for trial if released on taxpayer-funded release, without financial security, than if released on a private surety bail bond program;
  • Defendants released through a commercial surety bond were less likely to miss their court appearance and become fugitives than defendants released through other means;
  • Defendants released on surety bonds are 28 percent less likely to fail to appear than similar defendants released on their own recognizance;
  • A defendant’s flight risk is lowered when they understand that family and/or friends will bear a financial burden for a failure to appear;
  • Commercial bail offers many layers of financial commitments: the insurance company as surety on the bond; a bail agent’s contract with the insurance company; the bail agent’s own funds with the insurance company; and third-party indemnitors on the bond;
  • Each bail bond written results in payment of insurance premium taxes back into county/state coffers;
  • Economic savings result from lower failure to appear and recidivism rates;
  • Economic savings result from increased fugitive recovery, which results in over 30,000 apprehensions each year at no taxpayer expense;
  • Public safety is enhanced under commercial bail as bail agents continually assess risk of the defendant to influence a positive outcome: regular check-ins, ongoing communication with the defendant and indemnitors; court reminders; and monitoring to avoid a failure to appear;
  • The non-refundable fee, or the premium, is the cost of assuming the risk of appearance for a defendant;
  • A bail agent is physically and financially responsible for a defendant from the time of release on bail until disposition of the case;
  • The one-time premium a defendant pays must cover all expenses, insurance costs and fugitive recovery fees if necessary and is good for the life of the bond;
  • Bond fees and rates are not determined by race, gender or socio-economic status but by strict bail schedules; and
  • Bail agents charge a minimum fee to assume the risk for a defendant as required by state statute. 
Defendants don’t automatically remain in jail because they can’t afford money bail:
  • Defendants are less likely to be released from jail if they have a prior arrest or conviction;
  • Defendants are less likely to be released from jail if they have an active criminal justice status or a prior failure to appear; and
  • Defendants arrested for violent offenses or who have a criminal record are most likely to have a high bail amount or be denied bail. 
In addition, Judges always have the authority to release someone on their own recognizance if they feel the charge and criminal history warrants such release.  No money is required for this type of release. 

PJI’s bail reform update stated the commercial bail industry fights for and promotes legislation in our, “Continual quest to regain markets that base release on risk rather than money.”

In reality, the bail industry fights for and promotes legislation that:
  • Improves appearance and enhances public safety;
  • Creates transparency among taxpayer-funded pretrial service programs;
  • Forces taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs to provide data and statistics to show their effectiveness and efficiency using tax dollars; and
  • Highlights the pitfalls of ineffective release systems such as ten percent deposit bail, which has high failure to appear rates and a significant impact on the criminal justice system.
Most model legislation increases the regulation and accountability of the bail industry, not lessens it.  All legislation pertaining to the criminal justice system should promote public safety.

PJI's bail reform update also stated that the commercial bail industry, “Balks at attempts to collect forfeitures.”  Like every industry, there are a few that don’t follow the rules and create a negative perception for the majority.  The industry has been one of the first to blow the whistle on forfeiture abuses and works with many states’ Departments of Insurance to hold the industry accountable for bond forfeitures.  In the vast majority of criminal proceedings there is no forfeiture because commercial bail has done its job.  If bail agents did not pay their forfeitures, the industry would lose authority to write bonds and would quickly be out of business.

Then it was on to corrupt bondsmen; the report singled out a bail agent in NY that lost his license after engaging in practices that were deemed, “Reprehensible, unconscionable and unfair.”   Again, unfortunately a few can cause damage to the majority.  The report acknowledged that this particular bail agent is, “Not representative of every bondsman across the country.”  The commercial bail industry will continue to demand professionalism and lawful behavior in our profession at all times.

The commercial bail industry has a responsibility to educate the public regarding the taxpayer savings the industry provides.  We continue to acknowledge that taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs have a role in the criminal justice system, but not in the wholesale release of every arrested defendant.  Individuals who are truly indigent, have allegedly committed a non-violent crime and who have limited non-violent criminal histories, are those that should be reviewed for taxpayer-funded release programs.  We have not called for the elimination of these programs as they have for commercial bail.

Instead, PJI and other proponents of using taxpayer dollars to release arrested defendants continue to advocate for:
Ending the use of money as a proxy for risk in pretrial systems
Eliminating the for-profit bail bonding industry in the criminal justice system
Increasing the use of pretrial services agencies to measure the public safety and flight risks of arrested individuals and supervise them during pretrial release
Such proponents clearly state that, “Bail bondsmen are lobbying legislators and others because they don’t want their industry to go bye-bye.”   Advocating for the elimination of what they call the, “For-profit bail bonding industry” definitely sends the message that taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs don’t want to go “bye-bye” either.  Who is talking job security in that scenario? 

Many elected officials and the public are simply fed up with the marginal effectiveness of unsecured release methods.  Individuals who can afford their own release from jail should do so; indigent defendants should be given the benefit of release under taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs. 

To do anything less wastes taxpayer dollars and impacts public safety.  We all want fair and effective justice. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How Commercial Bail Protects Public Safety

When someone is arrested, the court determines if that person warrants release from custody based the arrested offense, their past criminal history and other mitigating factors and then sets conditions for release.  If bail is given, it cannot be excessive per the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

As defined in the Florida Statutes and most other states, “bail” or “bond” includes any and all forms of pretrial release.  The Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure defines “bail” as any of the following forms of release: 

  • Personal recognizance of the defendant; 
  • Execution of an unsecured appearance bond in an amount specified by the judge;
  • Placing restrictions on the travel, association, or place of abode of the defendant during the period of release;
  • Placing the defendant in custody of a designated person or organization agreeing to supervise him;
  • Requiring the execution of a bail bond with sufficient solvent sureties, or the deposit of cash in lieu thereof; provided, however, that any criminal defendant who is required to meet monetary bail or bail with any monetary component may satisfy said bail by providing an appearance bond; and
  • Imposing any other condition deemed reasonably necessary to assure appearance as required, including a condition requiring that the person return to custody after specified hours.
Of all of these forms of release, a commercial surety bail bond has been proven to be the most effective and efficient means of ensuring a defendant appears at all court proceedings and has the lowest recidivism rate for defendants on pretrial release.  Bail agents assess risk on every defendant and often take collateral and utilize third-party indemnitors to further ensure appearance.

A bail bond is an insurance product: a contract between the court, defendant and surety.  The system is user-funded and uses no taxpayer dollars.  The non-refundable fee the defendant and/or indemnitor pay to the bail agent is the cost of assuming the risk of appearance for that defendant.  Bail agents and the surety company are held to strict standards and licensing requirements:

  • Meticulous records must be kept years after a bail transaction 
  • Surety companies must file quarterly financial statements to demonstrate their solvency
  • Bail agents and surety companies must be licensed by each state’s Department of Insurance
  • Surety companies must undergo market conduct exams to ensure they are meeting all licensing requirements
  • Continuing education is required to maintain a bail license
Bail agents work with defendants from all socio-economic backgrounds.  Bond fees and rates are not determined by race, gender or socio-economic status but by strict bail schedules or other schedules determined by the court. 

What the public doesn’t always understand is the level of supervision provided by bail agents and the actions they can take to ensure defendants are adhering to conditions of release.
  • Bail agents take detailed information on a defendant to determine their risk level and what safeguards and conditions need to be added to the bail contract 
  • Bail agents catalog information on a defendant in order to find the defendant at all times:
    • Family/relatives (addresses and phone numbers)
    • Friends/girlfriends/boyfriends (addresses and phone numbers)
    • Employers/school
    • Residency (address and phone numbers)
    • Social habits/hobbies etc.
    • Driver’s license and social security numbers
  • Bail agents have broad supervision rights over defendants released on bail
  • Bail agents can surrender or arrest defendants if the contractual conditions of release have been breached
  • Bail agents can make warrantless searches and seizures
  • Bail agents utilize third-party indemnitors on each bond as an added incentive for the defendant to appear at all court hearings and refrain from criminal activity
  • Bail agents often require defendants to have regular check-ins in person and by phone
  • Bail agents have ongoing communication with indemnitors who provide a critical source of knowledge regarding a defendant while out on pretrial release
  • Bail agents make field visits to a defendant’s home/work when necessary
  • Many bail agents offer GPS monitoring and drug testing as a condition of bail, which enhances public safety
  • Bail agents are financially liable for defendants released on bail
  • Bail agents have a financial incentive to make sure defendants appear for court and often risk their lives to apprehend defendants who have failed to appear
  • Bail agents have arrest powers and will find defendants who have failed to appear or who have breached the bail contract and put them back in jail
  • Bail agents coordinate with law enforcement for the recapture of a defendant in risky or dangerous situations to protect both the defendant and the public.
In the U.S. Supreme Court case Taylor v. Taintor, the court ruled that a bail agent has a legal right to supervise a defendant at all times:
“When bail is given, the principal is regarded as delivered to the custody of his sureties.  Their dominion is a continuance of the original imprisonment.  Whenever they choose to do so, they may seize him and deliver him up in their discharge; and if that cannot be done at once, they may imprison him until it can be done.  They may exercise their rights in person or by agent.  They may pursue him into another State; may arrest him on the Sabbath; and if necessary, may break and enter his house for that purpose.  The seizure is not made by virtue of new process.  None is needed.  It is likened to the re-arrest by the sheriff of an escaping prisoner.”
So the next time you are told that bail agents only care about profit and making sure their defendants appear for court and nothing in-between, help educate them on what the bail industry really provides and how we save taxpayers millions of dollars each year. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Matrix Recommendation to Orange County, FL Commissioners: Renew Home Confinement Program

The Matrix Consulting Group headquartered in CA, provides detailed analysis of management, staffing and operational issues for city, county and state governments.  The Orange County, FL Board of County Commissioners hired the firm to analyze Orange County’s home confinement program, which was suspended after it was learned that the program did nothing to confront Bessman Okafor’s 109 curfew violations.  Mr. Okafor is charged with the murder of Alex Zaldivar while defying his home confinement order.

On Tuesday, August 6, 2013 the Matrix presented their formal report to County Commissioners and recommended that they renew the home confinement program with greater controls.  Mr. Brady stated that the first phase of the analysis looked at the home confinement program exclusively.  A variety of elements were studied to include how the program was governed, the risk and liability elements of the program, organizational structure, how defendants were supervised, staffing levels and caseloads, use of technology, opportunities to privatize the program and the feasibility of discontinuing the program entirely.

The Matrix Group developed a detailed database of all of the participants who were in the program for the past year before the program was suspended.  Review of this database of defendants resulted in what Mr. Brady called, "A number of very interesting findings about how Orange County was using the program, especially when compared to other counties surveyed."

These findings regarding the home confinement program included:
  • The use of the program had been declining dramatically over the last five years
  • Length of stay defendants stayed in the program was significantly up however
  • The number of successful completions was up while the number of judicial revocations was down
  • The vast majority of defendants in the program were charged with felony offenses with about 16 percent having two or more violent felony convictions
  • The vast majority of defendants were in the program as a condition of bail
  • The bail amounts were predominantly very low with 60 percent of defendants having bail amounts set at $5,000 or below
  • 68 percent of felons had at least one prior conviction for any kind of charge
  • A number of people who participated in the program within the last year had prior contact with the judicial system; for example 21 percent of defendants had a prior failure to appear
  • Once defendants were in the program, field visits were made about every nine days, with defendants charged with more serious offenses having about the same visitation rate in the field as less serious offenders
The Matrix Group surveyed five other Florida counties and three out-of-state programs to ascertain how Orange County’s program compared to other programs.  The Matrix Group found the following:
  • Other programs were assigning lower-risk offenders to their programs
  • Defendants were less violent and had better risk characteristics (showing up for court)
  • Caseloads were lower when compared to Orange County’s
  • Other programs had a more active approach to supervision of defendants
  • Most programs had or were in the process of transitioning completely to GPS technology vs. radio frequency (RF) technology
When discussing Orange County’s home confinement program, Mr. Brady stated: “Clearly until you suspended it, your home confinement program had a number of issues; more serious offenders than we typically see in other programs, bail was extremely low, caseloads were very high, and assignments were not always actively monitored; in fact in the evening hours they weren’t monitored at all.”  

The study found that staff also need to be better trained, both when they are brought into the program as well as on an ongoing basis, which the Matrix Group pointed out was definitely a weakness before the program was suspended.

However, the Matrix Group still recommended that Orange County renew the home confinement program.  Based on the experience of other counties, Orange County's home confinement program’s risk could be better managed by controlling the kind of defendants assigned to it and adjusting better caseloads and staffing models. 

The Matrix Group also recommended that the Public Safety/Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (PS/CJCC) be re-engaged to develop the performance standards against which the home confinement program should be judged and that home confinement staff and other pretrial personnel develop and actively report to the Council initially on a monthly basis.

The Matrix Group ended their presentation by stating to County Commissioners that renewing or not renewing the home confinement program was a, “Question of where they want to be on the risk management spectrum.”  Having the home confinement program in place with some controls and improvement would be better than just having people released on bail without supervision.

Once again, the bail industry has an opportunity to educate our citizens about the public safety and taxpayer savings the industry provides to communities across the country. 

The purpose of bail is to ensure the appearance of a defendant at all required court hearings and to protect the community against unreasonable danger.  We guarantee the appearance of the defendant and are completely financially accountable to the court and taxpayers to do so.  Bail agents take detailed information on a defendant to determine their risk level and what safeguards and conditions need to be added to the bail contract.  We also utilize third-party indemnitors on each bond as an added incentive for the defendant to appear at all court hearings and refrain from criminal activity.

Is the system foolproof?  No.  But no system is completely foolproof when dealing with human nature.  

Assessing risk based on a defendant’s arrest charge, ties to the community, employment and  criminal history are just some of the important elements for determining what conditions of release need to be put in place.  The use of taxpayer dollars to release and supervise defendants in our communities should be limited to those individuals charged with non-violent crimes, who have a limited non-violent criminal history and who are truly indigent. 

An increased working relationship with any party responsible for supervision of defendants released into the community pending the disposition of their case, including the bail industry, will only increase public safety and offender accountability.  We all want our families and friends to be safe and for those who choose to commit crimes to be held accountable.

In that spirit, Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke asked that the Matrix Group and his fellow Commissioners make a timely review of the Community Correction’s Pretrial Supervision program a priority.  Hundreds of defendants are released on non-monetary means with only automated telephone supervision through this program.  Defendants are being released on both felony and misdemeanor charges, with a significant number of them charged with domestic violence related offenses and driving under the influence.  Commissioner Clarke stated that, "When you are dealing with this many domestic violence charges it is not a long stretch to think you could have another horrific outcome."  He also stressed the importance of providing the judges at first appearance hearings with accurate information on a defendant’s prior criminal convictions to make the most informed release decision.

Likewise, Orange County Commissioner Fred Brummer stressed the importance of assessing a defendant’s risk to determine what level of supervision they should receive: "Once they [a defendant] come into the system we need to, whoever is responsible, needs to make the judgment, assess the risk and follow-up to see that the type or level of supervision, or the appropriate level of supervision, is applied based upon all factors."

Orange County Commissioner Ted Edwards also weighed in on defendants being released from jail and committing repeat crimes: "One thing that has been a concern of mine is that our prison population has been going down a number of years and are we putting people on the streets that would be better off in jail because they are repeat offenders that are going to be committing more crimes.  And I think as much as it is our duty to keep our budgets low, it is more important to protect our citizens."

Mayor Teresa Jacobs echoed her fellow Commissioners' concerns when she stated that there, "Might be similar offenders who aren’t even on a monitoring system and so hopefully we will have the same insightful information that will either put us at ease or will alert us to the need to work with the council [CJ/PSCC] on that as well."

Keeping our communities safe and reducing crime should be a shared goal for all of us.  The United States Constitution states that bail shall be based on “sufficient surety” that a defendant will appear; the bail industry takes this responsibility seriously and continues to be the most effective method of pretrial release with the lowest recidivism rates. 

After the Matrix presentation, Accredited reached out to Mr. Brady asking for a meeting in an effort to further educate him and his company on what the industry provides and how we can partner with the Community Corrections Division and other private partners in the criminal justice system to make it more accountable and effective. 

We look forward to making our communities safer by being involved in this important process and review.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Non-refundable Fees: Why seen as objectionable for a bail bond?

Payment of non-refundable fees for services rendered is nothing new.  Landlords charge non-refundable fees in the form of security deposits, cleaning fees and pet fees.  There are non-refundable application fees and costs associated with lending of loans and mortgages.  Non-refundable fees are charged for student applications to colleges and universities, which is used to defray various administrative costs.  Many airline fares are non-fundable.  There are non-refundable trip insurance fees.  In the criminal justice system, Courts charge non-refundable filing fees for various licenses, documents or court services.  Attorneys charge non-refundable fees for legal services rendered, which are separate from other court costs or compensatory and punitive damages.   Such fees are just the cost of doing business.

So why should bail agents, who also charge a non-fundable fee for services rendered, be seen any differently than the examples above?  Does the guarantee of appearance at court and the financial accountability a bail agent assumes have no value?  Would the taxpayers be better served by assuming this responsibility rather than a private industry that has been proven to be the most effective and efficient means of pretrial release?  Where is the public uproar and deluge of news articles regarding non-refundable fees outside of the bail industry?

Bail agents across the country release from jail on average 250,000 defendants each month, resulting in a significant impact on jail operational expenses and taxpayer savings.  The non-refundable fee, or premium, is the cost of assuming the risk of appearance for a defendant.  This non-refundable fee must cover all expenses, insurance costs and fugitive recovery fees if necessary, and is good for the life of the bond.  This non-refundable fee is usually ten percent of the total bond for a bail agent to accept financial responsibility for court appearance. 

A defendant also has the right to post a full cash bond directly with the court, which often has a non-refundable fee tacked-on as well, and at the conclusion of the case if all court appearances were made, will get some of the money returned less court costs and fines.  Unsecured financial bail is a promise to appear and upon failure to do so, the defendant is obligated to pay the full amount of the bond to the court.  Cash deposit bail also requires a defendant to post ten percent of the total bond – but to the court instead of a bail agent.  If the defendant makes all required court appearances and at the conclusion of their case, the court is mandated to return this deposit to the defendant less court costs and fines. 

But what happens when a defendant fails to appear for court under a ten percent deposit system or other unsecured release methods?  Taxpayers are left on the hook to fund law enforcement to find the defendant and bring them back to jail vs. a private bail agent assuming this task.  When a defendant fails to appear on a commercial bail bond, the bail agent and the surety company underwriting the bond must pay the full amount of the bond to the court if the defendant is not found and returned within a specified amount of time. 

In Florida, the bail premium, or non-refundable fee, is $100 or ten percent of the total bail amount, whichever is greater.  For example, if the bail set is $10,000.00, the premium charged would be $1,000.00.  If the bail set is $250.00, the premium charged would be $100.00.  Florida Statute 648.33 states it is unlawful for a bail bond agent to execute a bail bond without charging a premium and the premium rate may not exceed or be less than the premium rate as filed with and approved by the Legislature.

Opponents of the commercial bail industry claim that once this non-refundable fee is paid to the bail agent, a defendant has no incentive to come to court because they know they won’t get any of their money back.  This is blatantly false. 

In a study released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, their analysis showed that defendants released on a commercial bail bond were less likely to miss a court appearance and become fugitives than defendants released on any other means.  A recent research study conducted by Dr. Robert Morris, Associate Professor of Criminology and Director for the Center for Crime and Justice Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, found the same results.  His analysis suggested that net of other effects (e.g., criminal history, age, indigence, etc.), defendants released via commercial bonds were least likely to fail to appear in court compared to any other specific mechanism.  This finding was consistent when assessed for all charge categories combined and when the data were stratified by felony and misdemeanor offenses, respectively.

Why is commercial bail so successful in holding defendants accountable for failure to appear?

Bail agents continually assess the risk of a defendant to influence a positive outcome.  They often require defendants to have regular check-ins, take detailed information on a defendant’s community ties and residency, provide court reminders and maintain contact with indemnitors to help ensure the defendant is adhering to the court’s conditions.  Bail agents can devote the time necessary to make sure pursuits are successful for defendants who have failed to appear as law enforcement are over-burdened and often give failures to appear a low priority.  Commercial bail is also successful because of its many layers of financial commitments and the involvement of third-party indemnitors, whose financial resources were used to bail the defendant out of jail.  Specifically, bail is user-funded.  Critical tax dollars are saved by a private entity doing what it does best – guaranteeing the appearance of a defendant in court.

So when we hear opponents of commercial bail state to the public and members of state legislatures that our citizens don’t need, nor should they care about allowing for an effective system of release and accountability in the criminal justice system, we have to wonder what their motives are.  Bail agents live and work in the same communities they release defendants into and therefore take the issue of public safety very seriously.  The tired argument that bail agents only care about “profit margins” is what it seems – just a tired argument.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Draft Study Released on Orange County, FL's Home Confinement Program

The draft study report on the Orange County, FL Correction Department's Home Confinement Unit, conducted by the Matrix Consulting Group at a cost of $100,000, has been released to Orange County Commissioners for review.  The Home Confinement program was suspended and then terminated after two internal investigations found that there were numerous violations of the jail’s policies and procedures in operating the program.

The Matrix’s project team concluded that a home confinement program designed with fewer alleged offenders who are more likely to violate their terms of pretrial release, with improved and more credible technology and with an active monitoring component, would be the best solution for Orange County.  But their recommendations also come with a price tag: $643,500 in salaries and benefits to reinstate nine senior Community Corrections Officers and $165,000 in salaries and benefits to hire three new Aid positions; they also recommend a 25 percent reduction in case loads.  However the final report will not be issued until early August after the county has held their three-day budget worksessions for all county departments to set the budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

The objective of the Matrix study was to evaluate the management, staffing and operations of the Home Confinement program.  The study noted that the Home Confinement program was originally designed for enhanced monitoring for defendants accused of relatively minor offenses but evolved to include more serious offenses to help keep the jail population in check.  Even as the inmate population declined however, the program did not shift back to just supervising defendants with minor offenses.

The study also found that the Home Confinement program’s fees were low compared to other counties and that collection fees for supervision have been only 10-15 percent of true program costs.  Typically $300,000 to $400,000 in invoiced fees was written off annually by the program; money that could have been used to benefit taxpayers. 

Opponents who advocate for the elimination of the private commercial bail industry state that financial release weakens public safety and characterize bail agents as only caring about profits by benefiting off the poor.  Yet taxpayer-funded pretrial supervision systems are using millions of taxpayer dollars to supervise defendants who many times can afford to pay for their own release, while also charging fees for their services but offering no guarantee to the court for appearance.  Sounds like a hypocritical argument. 

In reviewing the Home Confinement program, the Matrix questioned why there have been two separate programs within the Community Corrections Division responsible for supervising pretrial release defendants.  In addition to the Home Confinement program, the county also operates a taxpayer-funded Pretrial Supervision program in which defendants are released to be monitored via a telephone reporting system with limited office visits and with no electronic monitoring or field supervision.  Hundreds of defendants charged with both misdemeanor and felony offenses continue to be released into the Pretrial Supervision program with no personal financial obligation for their release; the taxpayers are paying for it instead. 

In 2011, the latest year that statistics are available to the public, a total of 3,992 defendants were released to non-electronic monitoring supervision while only 977 defendants were ordered to be supervised by electronic monitoring with field visits.  The Matrix study noted that these two programs are dealing with comparable offenders but the supervision and monitoring is vastly different.  Our previous blogs have detailed the seriousness of these releases and the effect on public safety.

The Matrix is recommending that these two programs be consolidated for the administration and management of pretrial release defendants so the “spectrum of supervision for pretrial releases are in one part of the Community Corrections Division.”  However no changes to supervision methods under the Pretrial Supervision program, which deals with many more defendants, vs. the Home Confinement program, has been recommended.

The Matrix study noted that without the Home Confinement program, Orange County lacks a significant tool in the supervision of persons released from custody on bail or on their own recognizance.  The Home Confinement program as noted in the study, was used primarily for pretrial defendants who could meet bail requirements and electronic monitoring was used as a supervision tool.  While the Matrix study noted that the vast majority of defendants in the Home Confinement program had been ordered there as a condition of bail, the study also implied that with a bail bond there is no form of supervision. 

In reality, public safety is enhanced under commercial bail as bail agents continually assess the risk of the defendant to influence a positive outcome through regular check-ins, ongoing communication with the defendant and indemnitor and court reminders.  In addition, third-party indemnitors provide a critical source of knowledge to bail agents, which enhances commercial bail’s effectiveness and ability to proactively manage risk.

The Matrix study asked the question, “What is the appropriate role for the private sector,” regarding the Home Confinement program.  The study recommends relying on the private sector to provide the most up-to-date technology as well as the maintenance of all equipment and software for GPS monitoring but the responsibility for actively monitoring defendants should be the county’s responsibility.  The commercial bail industry, as a private entity, can also be a partner in this endeavor. 

While the purpose of bail is to guarantee the appearance of a defendant at all required court hearings, bail agents should be a vital partner working in conjunction with any taxpayer-funded pretrial supervision program to enhance public safety and offender accountability.  When defendants are released both on bail and under a taxpayer-funded supervision program, effective communication between both entities can often result in a quick resolution to a violation or other issue with a defendant.

Bail is a constitutional right and society has relied on its effectiveness since the founding of the United States.  An industry that only collects ten percent upfront yet must pay out 100 percent of the bail amount for ineffective performance would go out of business quickly if it were not effective.  The bail industry’s longevity is the most telling sign of its effectiveness.

Representatives of the bail industry will be in attendance at the county’s budget worksessions beginning on Monday, July 15, 2013 at the Board of County Commissioners’ chambers.  We will be watching to see if the Correction Department’s funding remains the status quo or if taxpayer funding will be used more wisely in the public safety arena. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Effective Monitoring of Criminal Defendants

GPS monitoring, also known as a global positioning system, is a tracking method that is supposed to be able to track a person’s precise location at any given time.  Such devices have been widely used to track the whereabouts of defendants charged with certain alleged crimes while out of jail during the pretrial phase of their case.  GPS tracking software allows the court to monitor a defendant’s location, which is displayed on a map in real time with recorded location data stored in the tracking unit.

GPS monitoring in Orange County was first suspended and is now eliminated via an administrative order issued by Chief Judge Belvin Perry, Jr. due to what he said resulted from major flaws in using the devices.  Orange County, FL is not alone in taking a serious look at GPS monitoring.

The Wisconsin Legislature’s budget committee recently voted to recommend scaling back a planned expansion of the state’s GPS monitoring program citing concerns over how well the technology works.  The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism found in a series of reports, that offenders on GPS tracking devices reported hundreds of false alerts that often put them back in jail even though they had not committed any true violations.  Dropped signals often occurred when offenders were traveling to designated sites, in buildings or during severe weather.

In contrast, California’s violent criminals and sex offenders placed on GPS monitoring, due in part to California’s “re-alignment” efforts to push state prisoners to county jails, have been cutting off the devices and committing new crimes.  Over 4,000 state parolees cut off their GPS monitors last year, leading the California Senate to approve a new bill to increase penalties for paroled sex offenders who cut off their GPS devices.

Another monitoring tool that shows its limitations.

Orange County, Florida’s Monitoring Programs

Orange County Corrections had a home confinement program that used radio-frequency monitoring and was managed by Orange County Corrections staff.  There was also a privately-run GPS program to monitor defendants.  Both programs were initially suspended and now are terminated from providing any type of monitoring to arrested defendants pending the disposition of their case. 

As Orange County’s public safety director Linda Weinberg recently stated, what remains is a, “loosely monitored program,” to provide supervision via a telephone monitoring system.  Weinberg further stated, “A number of people started coming on pretrial-release supervision.  Some of these people, because of the nature of their charges, are not really appropriate for pretrial-release supervision.”

The commercial bail industry, which has been tracking such releases for several years, has been providing release information to the County that shows defendants charged with serious crimes and with lengthy criminal histories continue to be released and supervised on taxpayer funds.  Many of them were released and supervised under the county’s home confinement program.

Two internal investigations that focused on the actions and practices of the home confinement program, found that there were numerous violations of the jail’s policies and procedures.  Practices within the home confinement program were accepted and/or condoned by the unit supervisor, all of which failed to address various warning flags.  During and after the investigations, top Corrections personnel resigned while others were given disciplinary action. 

The Orlando Sentinel reported that two years after the home confinement program began, the first review was in and it wasn’t good even then.  The program was implemented in 1989 as a cost-saving measure to free up jail bed space.  But the Orlando Sentinel’s 1991 report found that the home confinement program wasn’t following its own rules, monitoring was at times ineffective and defendants were placed on the program that should not have been.  

Over two decades later the same issues resurfaced - not following the program’s policies and procedures, improperly completed audits, an overall lack of compliance with the program and fear of privatization.

Yet taxpayers have continued to pay for the program. 

One of the recent scathing reports found that the home confinement supervisor, “At best created a level of acceptance in the eyes of her subordinate staff regarding the allowance of offenders to violate . . . at worst she may have even encouraged it.” 

Chief Judge Belvin Perry suspended the county’s privately run GPS monitoring program after a defendant charged with domestic violence and who was on GPS monitoring, allegedly shot another man in a park on Easter.  Wilfred Gregory shot the man in the head and ran; he cut off his monitor and the private GPS company failed to alert Apopka police to that fact allowing him time to get away.

Judge Perry stated that GPS monitoring, “Gives everyone a false sense of security when there is no security whatsoever.”  He also said there was a lack of personnel, procedures, oversight and law enforcement response to continue using the current private GPS providers.  

We agree with Judge Perry that significant changes need to be made to bring effective GPS monitoring back.  All monitoring methods need to be effective.  Direct oversight, legislative solutions and policies for who can and should be monitored are all important elements.
Importance of Commercial Bail

Florida Statute §903.046 lays out the purpose of bail in criminal proceedings, which is to ensure the appearance of the defendant at subsequent court proceedings and to protect the community against unreasonable danger from the criminal defendant.  Bail agents have played this critical role in our criminal justice system for centuries.  Bail agents are heavily licensed and regulated by state Departments of Insurance and must be underwritten by a surety company.  Bail agents are financially responsible for defendants released on bail and use no taxpayer money.

We guarantee the appearance of the defendant in court.  A defendant can’t ignore us or his/her compliance with the bail contract or they go back to jail.  A defendant can’t, “cut us off” like they can a GPS monitor because we know where to find them.  If there is a "false alert," we can often facilitate corrective action with the courts.  Our limitations are few but our responsibility great.  We have arrest powers and will and do use them - even when the time limit to recoup any of our money has passed.  It is the principle of the bail contract and its accountability.

We are the most accountable system to taxpayers and the courts.

Many states have pre-determined bail schedules depending on the specific crime.  If a defendant doesn’t obtain release by paying bail immediately after booking, a judge may make a bail decision at a separate hearing known as a “first appearance hearing.”  In making a bail decision, the judge must consider the seriousness of the alleged crime committed, the defendant’s prior criminal history, their danger to the community if released and ties to family, employment and the community.

Defendants released on a commercial bail bond must pay a bail agent a small non-refundable fee, usually ten percent of the total bond, to cover the risk and associated monitoring of that defendant.  Bail agents utilize third-party indemnitors on the bond who are an added incentive for the defendant to appear at all required court hearings and refrain from any criminal activity or the indemnitor could lose collateral they have pledged for the defendant.  Bail agents take detailed information on the defendant to ascertain their risk level and what safeguards need to be added to the bail contract for release.

For higher risk defendants, GPS monitoring can be another effective layer of supervision on top of supervision through a bail agent.  Both the GPS monitoring company and the bail agent should work closely together to ensure accountability of the defendant and safety of the community.  In some instances, judges will set a higher bond for defendants charged with more serious crimes as should be the case. 

The commercial bail industry will continue to seek ways to be part of the solution in using limited tax dollars wisely while working with criminal justice partners to enhance public safety.  As the Chief Assistant Public Defender stated recently, “We do need to find another way to do it.  GPS is not the problem.  The vendor is the problem.”

Let a centuries-old “vendor” continue their effective and efficient methods for ensuring accountability in our criminal justice system.  Engage the commercial bail industry in future discussions for win-win scenarios. 

We all benefit in the end.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Government: is it eliminating private business?

Unfortunately a fact of life is that government can always out-do private business because the government has the benefit of taxpayer monies.  Government can step in the way of a private industry that has centuries of success and efficiency.  Too many times what was originally meant to become a program that would ultimately save taxpayer dollars becomes a huge bureaucracy that is unwieldy and inefficient.  And the term “profit-making industry,” becomes something that is wrong.

Take the taxpayer-funded pretrial services system.

Originally established to help the poor, non-violent offender seek release from jail because they could not afford financial release, today such programs are competing with the private commercial bail industry by releasing hundreds of defendants each week, many of whom are charged with violent and dangerous offenses with criminal histories and who are not indigent.  Such programs have grown in size and scope to the point that they are directly competing for the same clients as the private sector at the taxpayers’ expense. 

Like so many government programs, taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs tend to proliferate into something that had a finite and noble purpose in the beginning but today have lost their focus.  If someone is arrested for an alleged crime and they have the resources to post a bond for their release, why would we use taxpayer funds to release them instead?  While the truly poor or indigent defendant who committed a non-violent offense languishes in jail.  Who could benefit from government assistance the most?  Today it seems like an affront to someone who has been accused of a crime to actually feel any kind of inconvenience for their release from jail while the victims of the alleged crimes are given little to no assistance.  And a for-profit industry in the criminal justice system, which is highly regulated and licensed, has become maligned and is told it is an insult for taking a small non-refundable premium to secure the release of someone from jail without using any taxpayer funds.

There becomes a problem with credibility when proponents are pushing a government release program from jail for everyone regardless of whether an individual can afford to pay for their own release.

If non-violent, low-risk offenders can be given a notice to appear, be released on their own recognizance, or released under a taxpayer-funded supervision program, the financial burden to the taxpayer is decreased by saving dollars for daily jail beds.  However, any supervision program must be efficient and effective.  But advocating for the creation or enhancement of taxpayer-funded programs for the release of risker and more dangerous offenders, often using fear and conjecture with elected officials, is fundamentally wrong. 

Some people need some type of intervention to get them back on the right path.  Taxpayer-funded programs can monitor certain types of interventions such as drug testing and adherence to anger management classes etc.  But if you are a defendant with a serious drug habit or someone who has a lengthy criminal history, how effective are these interventions at the end of the day in making sure you show up for court and refrain from future criminal activity.  They aren’t. 

The private commercial bail industry on the other hand must guarantee that you appear at all required court hearings or the bail agent is financially liable for the full amount of the bond – not just the small refundable premium earned.  No other release system has such financial responsibility.  Significant revenue is also generated for counties and states for every bail bond written in the form of licensing fees, losses and premium taxes.  But such accountability means little to those who seek more of your tax dollars. 

Proponents of taxpayer-funded pretrial services systems are now seeking stories on pretrial injustice to further their cause.  They want stories on how the current bail system in America has failed – failed for people arrested for a crime in the criminal justice system.  Stories about a time when money caused the unnecessary incarceration of an individual . . . when a simple risk assessment or preventative detention would have prevented future crime . . . when jails became overcrowded due to unnecessary pretrial incarceration . . . any example of policies or procedures that lead to unsafe, unfair or inefficient pretrial policies.

Pictures of defendants are being used as marketing strategies for more taxpayer dollars to be used to create and grow taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs.  Defendants don’t need to “languish” in jail if their offense and criminal history is one that a judge believes will warrant release on their own recognizance, or a promise to appear at all court hearings.  Judges don’t have to order release under a taxpayer-funded program for such defendants, particularly when supervision is minimal and the authority to find and bring someone back to jail for non-appearance is non-existent.  If they want a guarantee that defendant will appear for court based on their offense and criminal history, they know they can rely on the private commercial bail industry. 

Government vs. private industry:  At the end of the day the question we should all ask ourselves when using limited taxpayer dollars in the criminal justice system is this: do we want a private entity, a small business, individual bail agents who are financially responsible for guaranteeing defendants attend all required court hearings until disposition of their case, to continue to assume this critical role at no taxpayer expense . . . or do we want to put that responsibility on government and the taxpayers?

You decide.