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. 


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