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. 

1 comment:

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