Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kentucky Pretrial Release is Not Coming up Roses

It is not often that I will write a blog about a state that does not have commercial surety bail, but after reading a recent article on a group of Kentucky judges demanding changes in pretrial release rules, I felt I needed to. The article to which I am referring was published in the Courier Journal last week and discussed the growing failures of the state's pretrial release program (and for those of you that don’t know what that is…it is a program that releases defendants for FREE in the hope of reducing jail overcrowding).  Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that if you let people out of jail, there will obviously be less people in jail. That concept is pretty straightforward and I think we see eye to eye with the pretrial release agencies on this one.  The problem I have is the method that's used.  Releasing people from jail with just their promise that they will return for court is a concept that has proven to be a complete failure, time and time again, and the recent article and results in Kentucky only support this. When things have gotten so bad that judges are starting to complain, that should be a sign to all that change is needed. 

What really bothers me about this situation in Kentucky is that the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) has touted Kentucky as their crown jewel of success with a recent study conducted by PJI showing appearance rates in the high 90%.  But the facts of the study don’t tell you that this particular statistic is based on the use of surety bonds (not commercial surety, but private surety. Surety nonetheless).  The true failures of Kentucky’s pretrial release system can be attributed to the government sponsored FREE bail programs that let defendants out without a third party financial guarantee.  Research is showing that these defendants are not only missing court but they are also going out and committing additional crimes and creating additional crime victims.  The concept of “supervision” is a complete and utter fallacy when it comes to these programs.  There is no incentive for anyone, whether it be the defendant or the Pretrial Services Office, to ensure that a defendant show up for court, and without any accountability or incentive, you can imagine what the results are…nobody shows up for court.

I think it is time that taxpayers demand results from these pretrial service agencies.  They utilize and spend our tax dollars to do an inferior job on the very important task of supervising defendants while they await trial. Meanwhile, you have the commercial bail bond industry that has been in existence for hundreds of years for the sole reason that it is extremely effective at what it does…getting people to show up for court.

I think it is time to pull back the curtain and really take a look at the failures of pretrial service agencies and begin to draw the line in the sand for ALL 50 states and compare their performance to commercial bail.  It shouldn’t be a straight out land grab, but rather a thoughtful discussion about roles, responsibilities, skill sets and ultimately, results…because at the end of the day, that is what should matter right? Results…at least I would like to think so.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.  

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