Monday, March 18, 2013

Orange County, FL. Community Corrections Unit: taxpayers still paying for release and supervision

The Community Corrections Unit, part of the Orange County, FL. jail that has come under intense scrutiny due to the failures of the Home Confinement program, continues to supervise both pretrial and sentenced defendants released by the court.

The resulting investigation and shut-down of the Home Confinement program began when it was learned that no one at Orange County Corrections alerted any judges of Bessman Okafor’s 109 curfew violations, and who later murdered Alex Zaldivar while defying the home confinement order.  If a Judge had been notified of the curfew violations, he/she could have ordered Mr. Okafor to be put back in jail or put on more stringent monitoring.  Mr. Okafor should have been thoroughly monitored while on home confinement but he wasn’t.  He was not the only one.  Further investigations also show that an accused attempted murderer, carjacker and robber also violated their home confinement numerous times.

Supervision of defendants by any entity charged with doing so by the courts is paramount to public safety.  That responsibility must be taken seriously.  While a taxpayer-funded or private supervision system cannot one hundred percent prevent a defendant from committing a new crime while on supervision, the level of supervision and monitoring can drastically ensure more accountability.

Neither system has a crystal ball by which it can tell when someone is going to make the wrong moral decision and commit a crime.

However, the expertise and tools to supervise defendants in a successful manner – and the financial accountability on the line – can influence the end result.

The fact that the Community Corrections Unit, which also managed the Home Confinement program, is still supervising pretrial defendants pending the outcome of their case in our community begs to question if they know what their charges are up to.

The Pretrial Services program is charged with supervising and monitoring defendants released pretrial – even those who have a monetary bond, adding another taxpayer-funded layer of expense on top of supervision by the private industry.  Keep in mind that the supervision method for the vast majority of defendants simply entails them calling into an automated telephone answering system once a week or once a month.  

If you think that only defendants charged with minor offenses or who may have a minor criminal record are being released into the Pretrial Services program, think again.  Below are just two examples of defendants with lengthy criminal histories, failures to appear and violations of probation, that were released into the program February 26 and 27, 2013. 

William Robert Moore: charged with violation of probation on a charge of burglary of a conveyance (felony) and petit theft (misdemeanor); he was released on taxpayer funds on February 26, 2013
  • Mr. Moore has 12 prior misdemeanor convictions and 6 prior felony convictions in Orange County alone 
  • His criminal history in Orange County started in April of 1991 and continues today
  • His prior felony charges include: possession of a controlled substance (3 arrests); burglary of a conveyance (3 arrests); driving with license revoked as habitual offender; attempted aggravated battery; tampering with witness to hinder communication to law enforcement; possession of cocaine.
  • His prior misdemeanor charges include: resisting law enforcement without violence (2 arrests); battery; possession of drug paraphernalia (arrests); driving under the influence (2 arrests); obstruction by disguised person; possession of cannabis less than 20 grams; petit theft (3 arrests); driving with license suspended/revoked with knowledge (2 arrests); attaching tag not assigned; leaving scene of accidents with property damage; possession of narcotic equipment.
  • He has 7 prior failures to appear for a court appearance.
  • He has 8 prior violations of probation
Michael Steve Hill: charged with possession of cocaine (felony) and possession of drug paraphernalia (misdemeanor) on February 7, 2013; there was motion for pretrial release or reduction of bond on February 15 and a hearing on February 26, at which time Mr. Hill was released into the Pretrial Services program.  He was also released on a contempt of court charge for a writ of bodily attachment for not paying previous court costs and fines.  His taxpayer-funded release was revoked on March 7, 2013 when he committed a new crime and was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia and resisting law enforcement without violence.  
  • Mr. Hill has 18 prior misdemeanor convictions and 14 prior felony convictions in Orange County alone 
  • His criminal history in Orange County started in April of 1998 and continues today
  • His prior felony charges include: theft greater than $300 (4 arrests); possession of a controlled substance (5 arrests); petit theft/2 prior convictions (9 arrests); escape; sexual battery with deadly weapon and force; armed robbery with a weapon; false imprisonment; 
  • His prior misdemeanor charges include: theft less than $300 (6 arrests); resisting merchandise recovery (2 arrests); resisting law enforcement without violence (2 arrests); possession of drug paraphernalia (8 arrests); driving without a valid driver’s license (2 arrests); trespass in structure or conveyance.
  • He has 3 prior failures to appear for a court appearance.
  • He has 3 prior violations of probation
These are just two examples but there are so many more.  Since January 1 of this year up to March 2, 2013, 244 defendants have been released into the Pretrial Services program to be supervised.  This doesn’t include the defendants ordered into the Pretrial Diversion program, Alternative Community Service program or Probation – all supervised by the Community Corrections Unit.

On the other hand, the private commercial bail industry has been proven to be the most effective and efficient system of pretrial release – and we use no taxpayer funds.  Commercial bail offers many layers of financial commitments and thus accountability in the criminal justice system: 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.

The commercial bail industry has the lowest failure to appear and recidivism rates of any other jail release method.  And if someone does fail to appear, we cover the costs of getting that defendant back to the court’s jurisdiction and not the taxpayer.

If these releases don’t make you angry, take some time to review more of the jail’s releases on your tax dollars.  The Clerk of Court can direct you on how to obtain the registries with all of the release information.  

If these releases do anger you, speak up and let your county commissioners know how you feel about your tax dollars being spent to “supervise” defendants who were arrested for a criminal offense.  Budget work sessions are already being scheduled and your tax dollars only go so far.

Public policy affects public safety.

1 comment:

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