Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pretrial Release Agencies: Bail Bond Myths? Propaganda? Or Just Misguided Fantasy?

I just finished reading the latest piece of fictional research being disseminated by the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), and I thought I would share my thoughts on it.  While I do enjoy a good crime novel every once and a while, this specific story fell short in both storyline and substance.  And while I don’t typically like to ruin a good story or give away the end, I am not really worried about that here because to be honest, there is nothing new to this latest story that hasn’t been said previously. 

PJI once again has decided to put time, effort, and more likely than not, your tax-dollars into disseminating anti-bail propaganda to try and discredit the commercial bail bond industry.  For those of you who don’t know who PJI is, they are the leading advocate for the elimination of all commercial bail in every instance of release pending trial.  So it is no mystery why they continuously go after and try and undermine the commercial bail industry and its proven effectiveness.   In this latest attempt, they have gone after several research studies.  Their focus is on discrediting and pointing out “so-called” limitations in not one, not two, but SIX different research studies that all prove that financially secured release is more effective than other forms of release (specifically unsecured release).   And please know that these research studies weren’t conducted in the back office of a bail bond agents retail operation, as it almost feels like the PJI community would like you to believe.  But rather the studies that PJI is trying to discredit are coming from some of the nation’s leading research and criminal justice experts and Universities, including The University of Arizona, The US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, and The University of Chicago to name a few.

What is eerily missing from this story is a single study that shows that unsecured release is the most effective form of pretrial release.  Why is that?  Because one doesn’t exist.  Why is that? Because anyone who looks at comparing these forms of release (like the six studies referenced in the study PJI is disseminating) all come to the same conclusion…that financially secured bail outperforms unsecured bail in appearance rates and recidivism rates every time.  Remember, we aren’t talking about a single study; we are talking about 6 studies. 

As one of its conclusions, PJI suggests that more research be conducted to determine the best way to manage pretrial populations.  But to be honest, do we really need more research to show us that financially secured release is the most effective form of release only to have PJI than discredit the research because it didn’t help push their anti-commercial bail agenda.  I don’t think so. 

What I would like to see is PJI look in the mirror at themselves.  They need to do a study on their performance and share those results with the entire criminal justice system (which by the way, they never seem to want to do).  They need to answer a few questions… questions like, how effective are they at ensuring someone released through one of their pretrial service agencies is showing up for court?  How effective are they at ensuring that someone released through one of their programs is not out committing additional crimes?  And most importantly, how effective are they at going out and getting someone when they don’t show up for court?  Oh wait, I forgot, they don’t go out and get them. That is not their job.  Instead it falls on an overworked and undermanned law enforcement community to clean up Pretrial’s failures. 

When and if PJI decides to look at these issues, it would help if they hold themselves to the same criteria that the commercial bail bond industry does when calculating appearance rates.  For example, when a defendant has 10 scheduled court appearances and attends 9 of them, missing the last one, the bail industry considers that a Failure to Appear (FTA) rate of 100%.  A pretrial service agency looks at that same scenario and calculates their FTA rate as only 10%, because the defendant only missed 1 of 10 appearances.  Not quite the apples to apples comparsion they would like you to believe it is?  And the worst part of this…for PJI, not for the bail industry…is that even when pretrial services calculates their FTAs in this way, the commercial bail industry still outperforms them.   Maybe that is why they don’t want anyone to see or at least now believe the research.

While the pretrial community can continue to sling mud and arrows and the commercial bail bond industry and discredit the research studies of leading experts and institutions around the country, commercial bail will continue to do what we do.  We will continue to live up to the promises we make to the families of those defendants we bail out.  We will continue to keep the promises to the courts that we will return those defendants.  We will continue to keep the promises to the communities in which live, work, protect and support.  Why?  Because it is what we do and what we have always done.  Because bail does work.   We know it works.  Research shows it works.  97% of Sheriffs say it works.  90% of Judges say it works.  And at the end of the day, isn’t that all that should matter.  I look forward to hearing your comments.