There is an increasing push to establish taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs across the country and to eliminate financially secured bail. Why? Advocates of using more of your tax dollars to perform a function that the private industry is extremely effective at, cite various reasons. One is jail overcrowding because people can’t afford financial release. Another is that financial release discriminates against the poor. Yet another is that financial release is not evidence-based or objective. Another is that financial release doesn’t look at risk for flight or risk to public safety. Another is that financial release elevates the economic status of the defendant over assessment of risk.
In other words, is a system that has operated successfully and efficiently for centuries, ensuring that defendants appear for all required court appearances using no taxpayer dollars, no longer valid or needed? Are taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs the panacea to all of the woes in the criminal justice system?
By their own definition, advocates for such programs state that: pretrial services programs are an alternative to incarceration and provide all criminal court defendants that are initially unable to post bail, the opportunity to be interviewed to determine eligibility for release from jail under a supervised program. How is it determined that such defendants are unable to post bail? There are many defendants who have been and are able to post bail for prior and current criminal arrests but instead are given free release by the taxpayers. Many defendants have been released on taxpayer funds when they are not even declared indigent by the court.
They go on to say: Pretrial services release is mainly for defendants accused of minor crimes who can demonstrate that they live in the community and pose no threat of flight or danger to the community at large.
There are literally thousands of examples of defendants released on taxpayer funds to be “supervised” in the community and who are charged with serious and violent offenses, many with lengthy criminal histories, violation of probation and failures to appear for court. The contention that only defendants charged with minor crimes are released on taxpayer funds is a ruse to get more funding for their programs.
Those who promote the elimination of financially secured bail continue to try and make the taxpayers believe that our pretrial justice system is broken because defendants must either pay bail or wait behind bars for their court date. Proponents of taxpayer-funded programs claim they save the taxpayers millions of dollars by securing the release of defendants who otherwise would languish in jail without them. Money is the sole reason that is causing the unnecessary incarceration of the defendant. Money is stopping them from returning to their family and jobs. Money is causing jail overcrowding across the country because defendants can’t afford their release.
So the alternative is to release individuals on taxpayer funds through pretrial services programs, comprised of employees that often have little or no experience in supervising defendants. And yet they are tasked with ensuring defendants are complying with the conditions of bond and keeping citizens safe.
In contrast, public safety is enhanced under financially secured bail as bail agents continually assess risk of the defendant to include regular check-ins, ongoing communication with the defendant and indemnitors, court reminders and monitoring to avoid a failure to appear. Why? Because bail agents are physically and financially responsible for defendants released on bail. If that defendant fails to appear for court, the bail agent must repay the full amount of the bond to the court.
When people are arrested, they have several options for release, with financial bail being one of them. Taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs play an important role in the criminal justice system, which is interviewing defendants prior to their initial court appearance and compiling criminal history information for the judge to make an informed release decision. Such programs were never designed to supervise the types of defendants or the number of defendants they are today.
The private commercial bail industry understands that many counties are still facing difficult financial times and that they are seeking ways to be as innovative as possible. Likewise so is the commercial bail industry. All of us must do more with less. All the more reason to focus our resources and expertise in areas of the criminal justice system that save taxpayer dollars and protects public safety.
Taxpayer-funded pretrial services programs should focus on the non-violent, first-time offenders who pose little threat to community safety or those defendants who are truly indigent and have been arrested for a minor crime. The commercial bail industry has years of experience in supervising the more violent offenders and those with lengthy criminal histories. And, we use our own resources to do so.
As the commercial bail industry has said before and will continue to say . . . imagine the effect on public safety and offender accountability if both systems worked together to ensure the defendant appeared at all required court hearings, refrained from future criminal activity and refrained from violating any other condition of release?
The commercial bail industry is a willing partner but is the taxpayer-funded pretrial services system? We welcome the opportunity to come to the table as friends instead of foes.