Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bail Month – Pretrial Service Agencies on the Attack While Ignoring their Own Failures

As we move further along in the Pretrial Justice Institute’s self-declared Bail Month, I wanted to point out a recent story out of Minnesota that I believe should open people’s eyes to the real failures of the pretrial community.  This morning the Star Tribune published an article about the 100s of people with mental illness languishing away in Minnesota jails.  Now, it is important to understand that this is not an article that the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) was behind.  Nor was it a story that the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) was behind.  How do I know?  I know, because it doesn’t point the finger at commercial bail as the cause and the problem.  And just for the record, they definitely wouldn’t be behind this story, because it is ultimately reporting on the failures of their own programs.  As most people know, the pretrial community (especially groups like PJI and JPI) isn’t much for discussing the real issues around the criminal justice system.  Instead these two organizations would rather spend valuable tax dollars (which they are constantly complaining about not having enough of) and private donor dollars to publically defame and disqualify one of the most effective components of the criminal justice system…and yes, I am talking of course about the commercial bail industry.

The interesting and troubling thing to me about this article (which can be viewed here… "Left in limbo, hundreds of Minnesotans with mental illness languish in jail” ) is that it really opened my eyes to the real misguided motivation of the pretrial community.  And I say misguided because, personally, I honestly believe there is a purpose and role for pretrial services in helping people with special needs, but unfortunately in reality that purpose and role goes unfulfilled.

For example, according to the article, “on any given day, the Hennepin County jail holds 100-200 inmates with severe psychiatric disorders.  That represents ¼ of the jail’s population, and they languish there, on average for three months before getting proper psychiatric care.”  Notice how they don’t mention that those people are there because they can’t afford a bail bond.

Now I am under the impression that Pretrial Service Agencies were created to assist and manage these types of populations.  They were designed to assist the truly indigent…those without means and without connections to family…those who have mental health issue or substance dependency/abuse issues.  But the problem is they are failing when it comes to this mission.  Instead they have taken their eye off the ball and focused it squarely on the commercial bail industry.  Nowhere can I ever recall seeing something about the intent of pretrial services (when it was first conceived) to be about people should not have to pay for a bail bond.  It has always been about making sure that those that need help get it.  So why today is the sole purpose and mission of the pretrial community to eliminate money bail?  Why are they so focused and committed to eliminating us as a pretrial release mechanism (especially when it has been proven time and time again to be the most effective way to ensure appearance)?  Why are they so focused, that they would spend countless taxpayer dollars designating an entire month to spreading lies and negative stories about the bail industry?  Wouldn’t it seem more appropriate to having a month dedicated to helping the people being held with mental disorders?  Wouldn’t it be more beneficial and appropriate to have month dedicated to honoring the pretrial community’s successes in helping people with substance abuse issues?  Those are the questions that I believe people want answered.  Those are the questions that I believe the pretrial community needs to answer and should be answering.

Imagine if the pretrial community focused on achieving the mission on which they were first created…to helping those that can’t help themselves.  Our jails might be a different place and our tax dollars might be going towards good as opposed to going towards public relations efforts and smear campaigns. 

So here are my recommendations to both JPI and PJI.  Designate a month dedicated to improving public safety.  Reach out to the commercial bail industry and find ways to work together to make sure that the people in the system get the help they need.  Acknowledge the role and effectiveness of commercial bail and show how the public is being protected more effectively when people are released on financially secured bail.  If pretrial would to reach out in this way, I know that the bail community would reciprocate and acknowledge the role and effectiveness of pretrial services. 

I honestly believe that if these things could happen, then the criminal justice system would be in a better place.  Together we can be a positive force that is maintaining the proper level of accountability for those who are not indigent and taking care of those in a smart responsible way that are and need assistance.  It is time to stop persecuting and smearing the commercial bail industry and time to start embracing us as a partner.

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