Thursday, March 21, 2013

Taxpayer-Funded Jail Supervision: A Failed System

We have been educating all of you regarding defendants that are being released on tax dollars for serious offenses and the fact that they often have lengthy criminal histories, failures to appear for court and violations of probation.  In our own back yard in Orlando, Florida, Orange County Commissioners also fund a taxpayer-funded release and supervision program.

The Community Corrections unit of the jail is funded at $6.3 million dollars, $5.9 million of which is allocated to personal services (salaries, fringe benefits), while only $421,610 is allocated to operating expenses.  This unit operates both pretrial and post-supervision programs.  The Home Confinement program that was recently shut-down due to inadequate monitoring was operated under the Community Corrections Unit.  Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs shut-down the program saying, “Her concern is that there is potentially a development of a culture of complacency that just cannot be tolerated when we are talking about public safety.” 

The county also funds a pretrial services program to the tune of $2.8 million dollars, which again is operated under the Community Corrections unit and is supposed to supervise defendants in the community while their case goes through the court system. 

Now the county wants to hire a consultant to the tune of $100,000 to tell it what is wrong with the Community Corrections unit.  The Mayor already said what is wrong with it. A culture of complacency and a major lack of accountability

You have a huge bureaucracy within the county government system; it's jail department has continued to grow in scope and outside of its intended purpose, with staffing and operational costs taking a huge chuck of the funding as evidenced above.  When you continue to grow these community supervision programs with taxpayer dollars, you also grow the bureaucracy and end up with government responsible for supervising defendants in the community.  It becomes the norm rather than the exception.

Post-adjudication supervision programs such as pretrial diversion, community service, probation and work release, if run correctly, can have an impact on recidivism and help defendants get back on the right track.  The move to establish more taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs began in the 1990s to help assist the indigent first-time, non-violent offender to be released from jail.

The ongoing and very intense movement from organizations that support taxpayer-funded programs is to try and convince county governments that money bail discriminates against the poor and that all financial releases should be eliminated.  They claim they have a much better system for determining the risk level of defendants using “evidence based practices,” to enable them to supervise defendants more effectively in our communities.  Their motto: people arrested for a crime should be helped to get out of jail as easily as possible to go back to their lives and support their families and be productive members of society. 

The support or needs for victims of crimes are never even mentioned. 

As we have recently learned with the Orange County, Florida Home Confinement unit and their dismal lack of supervision, the focus must be realigned on what methods work the best for ensuring accountability in the criminal justice system.  Too many times we have heard judges say that the, “Pretrial services unit will keep tabs on you.”  I am sure they also assumed the Home Confinement unit was doing the same. 

Judges often order taxpayer-funded supervision along with a bail bond to enforce conditions of release, such as GPS monitoring or drug testing.  That is an important function if taxpayer-funded programs really kept tabs to make sure defendants are adhering to those conditions.  Home Confinement was one of the programs charged with enforcing conditions of release – but when a defendant is able to have over 100 violations and nothing is done about it – it makes you wonder how much they really have vested in community safety and doing their job successfully.

Why do you think the supervision level of the Home Confinement program was so lax? 

Could it be that the staff that operated the program simply disengaged at the end of their shift knowing it was someone else’s responsibility to take over? 

Could it be that there was no real “skin in the game” for Home Confinement staff if a defendant had a violation? 

Could it be that there was no “financial accountability” for Home Confinement staff? 

After all, they are county employees in a huge bureaucratic system that has multiple layers of tape to discipline a county employee.  Even the county employees responsible for the lack of monitoring for Bessman Okafor that led to the death of Alex Zaldivar, have not been fired – just reassigned.

Do we really need to pay a consultant more tax dollars to tell us what is wrong?

The private bail industry, which has been proven to provide the most efficient and effective means of pretrial release, doesn’t get to disengage at the end of the day.  We have so much “skin in the game” we can’t disengage.  And our financial accountability is at the maximum . . . because if we don’t do our job and a defendant fails to appear for court, we must pay the full amount of the bond to the court.  We can’t just pass the problem on to the next shift.  We have a vested interest in knowing where the defendant is at all times and with the help of the people that put up money or property for a defendant’s release, making sure the defendant doesn’t commit a new crime and adheres to all conditions of release.

The private commercial bail industry will gladly assist Mayor Jacobs and the court with sharing our knowledge and centuries of experience in best practices for supervising defendants and ensuring they are accountable to the criminal justice system. 

Taxpayer dollars should be used more wisely in the criminal justice system, such as for inmate identification and providing the court with information to make informed release decisions.  

Not for displacing the most effective and efficient system of supervision and putting that burden on the taxpayers.

Public policy affects public safety.

1 comment:

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