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.