Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pretrial Services Fails Again: Time to Tell the Truth

Click on the following link to read Brian's new blog post on the failure of jail re-alignment.

If you have picked up a paper recently you probably have seen story after story about crowded jails.  Too many crimes being committed, but not enough jail cells to house those that break the law.  So, you are probably wondering why the jails are crowded.  Well the folks at the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), an organization dedicated to the elimination of commercial bail and other financial means of release, would like you to believe that the jails are crowded because people can’t afford a bail bond.  In fact, according to their own research (which by the way, no one except them has seen), they state that anywhere from 60% to as high as 80% of the pretrial populations sitting in jail are stuck there because they can’t afford a bail bond.

The first question I have is where is the research?  Show us the breakdowns of these populations and prove that people truly are “languishing” away in prison because of the bail bondsmen, who by the way do not set bail -- that's the judge's job.  The problem is that there isn’t any research…at least none actually done by PJI…and to be honest, none that supports them as an effective source of pretrial release.  If PJI only took the time to actually research the make-up of the jail populations as opposed to touring the country pitching national associations to sign resolutions of questionable merit and veracity supporting their FREE criminal welfare programs, they would see that the jail populations are comprised of many different types of individuals…most of whom can’t be released on bail…not because they can’t afford it, but rather because they don’t qualify.  For example, some sitting in the county jail right now are the following types of individuals:

-  Those being held on immigration violations – do not qualify for bail
Those waiting to be transferred to a state prison – do not qualify for bail
-  Those waiting to be transferred to another jail in another state or county – do not qualify for bail
-  Those being held on probation violations or “blue warrants” – do not qualify for bail
-  Those actually serving out their sentence in a county jail – do not qualify for bail
-  Those that are deemed too dangerous for the community or are a flight risk – do not qualify for bail
-  Those whose bail was set so inordinately high that they were never intended to be released anyway
-  For those that do have a bail bond set, affording one is not a problem.  With flexible financing and payment
   options, bail bonds can be purchased quite readily.

So why are jails overcrowded if it is not that people can’t afford a bail bond?  We think that is a good question and one that should be answered through research as opposed to just pointing at the usual easy target, the bail bondsman.  In fact, a recent article in the Charleston Daily Mail, uncovered that probation and parole violations accounted for 38% of the jail population in a West Virginia jail (see the article by clicking the link: Parole violations add to jail woes).  While this is only one glimpse into jail populations in West Virginia, it just goes to show that there are many reasons for jail overcrowding and not just the one of “not being able to afford a bail bond.”  In fact, the Texas Public Policy Foundation recently commented on the topic of jail overcrowding by stating the following:

“The most important preliminary step available to counties seeking to reduce unnecessary pretrial incarceration is to review their jail population data to determine the number of defendants who are locked up solely because they could not afford a commercial bail bond.”

For years the anti-commercial bail PJI has targeted bail agents for extinction. We are a solution, not the problem with the criminal justice system.  In fact, the bail industry is the only entity that “guarantees” performance in the criminal justice system…and if we don’t perform we pay the court.  How does PJI respond when pretrial service agencies fail to perform, which they so frequently do?    Now that is a question that needs an answer.  What do you think?


  1. have you seen the new revised communication piece -

    "On any given day, at least one-third of jail inmates are un-convicted and held in jail for bail — at the staggering cost of $4.5+ billion per year. Though this population is considered “releaseable,” they remain incarcerated solely due to their inability to post bail.

    Jails throughout the nation have become increasingly expensive to operate, and jails are increasingly being forced to make difficult decisions to maintain due process and public safety in a cost-effective manner. Many jails, especially those faced with overcrowding, have found that pretrial justice reforms, such as assessing risk, can successfully reduce their inmate populations and lower incarceration spending without compromising public safety."

    brian, our jail is at full capacity. any thoughts on how should we respond to the above statements? thanks buddy.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I have not seen the communications piece you are referring to but would like to. In regards to 1/3 of people being held on bail, that is significantly lower than the 60-80% being touted by the Pretrial Justice Institute in the media and on their 2012 Fundraising/Endorsement Tour. Jails are expensive to run and there are many that are crowded, but the reality is that many jails aren’t crowded. The Department of Justice recently released the results of a survey showing that jail populations declined between 2010 and 2011. The interesting thing about this study is that it represents the third year in a row that the jail populations in the US have decreased. So to say that nationally we are facing this problem is once again a myth perpetuated by Pretrial Services supporters looking to further their funding.

    It is also important to understand that jail populations are not static. Rather they are continuously revolving with people coming in and out. So to say that the number of people sitting in jail represents people that have been sitting there the whole time is misleading. If someone is “releasable” and there is someone out in the community that feels they should be released and will show up to court they will be released. The bail industry offers financing and payment plans (just look in a phone book) just like every other business today. So once again, to say people are sitting in jail because they can’t get a bail bond is not only misleading but a flat out lie. Those who are in jail are there for one of the many reasons I pointed out in my blog.

    I think it is extremely important that people understand that the bail industry is not advocating for the complete removal of Pretrial Services (PTS) from the system, but rather advocating that they stay within the guidelines that they were originally designed to operate. PTS should focus on helping the truly indigent. PTS should focus on helping those who need assistance with substance abuse issues. But PTS should not be looking to expand their reach by letting those out who very obviously do not meet the original criteria of the program. Over time PTS has looked to increase its funding opportunitie by expanding its reach into defendant populations that it is not able to manage effectively. They are unable to track them, monitor them and most importantly, GUARANTEE their appearance in court at the levels required to ensure public safety. And when it comes to results and statistics, PTS can’t get their act together on how to even calculate their lack of success. A recent story out of Tarrant County Texas showed that PTS calculates its failure to appear rate based on what percentage of court appearances that a defendant misses. So if they go to 3 out of 4, that is calculated as a 25% Failure to Appear (FTA) rate. The bail industry calculates that same scenario as 100% FTA. Why? Because the bail agent has made a guarantee that the defendant will show up for ALL court appearances not just some. If they don’t show up, the bail agent brings them back to jail or pays. What does PTS do when a defendant doesn’t show up for court….NOTHING. The amazing thing is that even when PTS pads their numbers with the event based approach to calculating FTAs versus the Bail industry’s defendant based approach, the bail industry still outperforms them. And padding stats around something as important as ensuring court appearances should be looked at with concern, because ultimately when people don't appear for trial and have no supervision, they will commit more crimes and create more crime victims. Is that what our tax dollars should be used for?...(cont'd below)

  3. ...The bail profession continues to get a bad rap from the media for no reason other than the negative image that Hollywood has created for this industry. The reality of bail is that it is a vital element in the criminal justice system (in a recent survey conducted with Sheriffs, 97% agreed that bail agents play an important role in the criminal justice system). When it comes to appearance rates and recidivism rates, financially secured release outperform PTS alternatives in every way, and that has been documented, not by the bail industry, but by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. Just because PTS doesn’t want you to believe those statistics doesn’t mean they aren’t true.

    At the end of the day, this comes down to taxpayer dollars being used to fund a program that is trying to do more than it was intended to do at the expense to public safety... meanwhile, you have a more effective solution in the bail bond industry that actually increases public safety. After looking at the stats and what is truly at stake in terms of public safety, the decision on what method of release to use really becomes a no brainer.

  4. In Colorado many jails are housing prisoners (for a fee) for immigration and for the feds. If they removed these renters how would that affect their crouding?

  5. Two points that are not often presented: Many times the defendant is sitting in jail because that is where the family wants him to be, for numerous reasons, not the least of which is to get them clean of drugs which they would not do voluntarily or at their families insistence. Secondly, the work product of the bail bondsman, by and through their recovery agents, are responsible for presenting defendants for warrant service on cases in addition to those the defendant was bailed on. Most people skip bond as a cumulative effect of their cases, not the single case they are bonded on. The judiciary is aware of this and has released defendants that are charged with multiple cases on ROR or Unsecured Personal Bond (Signature Bonds) and having one case set as 100% bond, with all cases having the same court dates. The mind set is to have the bondsman guarantee the appearance of the defendant on all cases, but only allow them to be paid on one case. That, in and of itself, speaks volumes to those that pay attention.

    R.E. "Scott" MacLean III
    Chesapeake Bail Bonds