Friday, December 20, 2013

Public-Private Criminal Justice Collaboration: A Pretrial Service Agency’s Nightmare or A Needed Reality

I have been in the bail bond business for a large part of my life.  Over the years, I have seen just about everything.  In the case of public sector pretrial services and its ongoing and seemingly never ending fight against the commercial bail industry, I have seen them throw countless disparaging comments and fact-less arguments against the wall like cooked spaghetti, only to have most of them slide down the wall and end up on the floor.  The most recent of these arguments is linked to the issue of jail overcrowding.  According to claims made by the public sector pretrial community, jails are overcrowded because people can’t afford a bail bond.  In fact, they claim that 70% of the people in county jails are there because they can’t afford a bail bond.  Once again, more spaghetti on the wall…and more spaghetti sliding down and falling on the floor. 

Over the past several months, I have written several blogs outlining why this argument is false.  First and foremost, before one can claim that jails are crowded because people can’t afford a bail bond, it is important to first understand who is occupying the jails.  That being said,  if the public sector pretrial release community would objectively assess the pretrial populations, they would see that a large majority of pretrial detainees are not even eligible for bail (even though they are in pretrial status).  A study completed in 2012 by the JFA Institute showed that while 70% of defendants in the jails were there in pretrial status, however only 12% of them were actually eligible for bail…a far cry from the claim of 70% by those who oppose commercial bail.

Another reason that this argument doesn’t stick is that several of the states that are currently facing jail overcrowding problems are states that don’t allow commercial bail.  This includes Oregon, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Illinois.  So if there is no commercial bail and jail overcrowding exists, is it safe to say that commercial bail is not the cause?  I would think so.

As if any further evidence was needed, a couple articles on the bail debate came out earlier this week.  One came out of New Jersey and one came out of Montana.  While unintended, both of these articles do a good job of confirming my previous two points.  The New Jersey article mentioned a 2012 Drug Policy Alliance study that looked at jail populations and determined that not 70%, but rather 12% of defendants were there because they couldn’t afford a bail bond.  See the original article here:  These numbers once again show that bail is affordable for most everyone and people’s release is not limited by the cost of a bail bond.   The Montana article on the other hand, not only debunks the claims of the public sector pretrial community, but also shines a light on what might be the potential cause of the overcrowding issue.  According to research conducted by a jail administer at the Lewis and Clark County Detention Center, it was estimated that 70% of the jail’s population is not comprised of those who can’t afford a bail bond, but rather by those “who have violated the terms of their release on parole or probation.”  The administrator goes on to say that, “Many languish away in jail…as the state doesn’t have the resources to deal with them.”  Lastly the administrator claims that, “A lack of public defenders contributes to jail overcrowding.” See the original article here:  As you can see, the problems linked to overcrowded jails are not as simple as the public sector pretrial community would like you to think…and they are definitely not caused by the commercial bail industry.

It is time for the public sector to stop trying to discredit the bail bond industry with its barrage of shifting arguments that never seem to stick.  Instead, wouldn’t it be better for them to put the valuable tax dollars they receive into constructive discussions with the private sector commercial bail industry to determine the most effective way to manage defendants?   A collaboration of this kind would not be something new.  In fact there has been a growing trend lately of public, private and social entities working together to solve problems.  A new book entitled “The Solution Revolution” by William Eggers and Paul Macmillan talks about many of these types of collaborations.  Isn’t it time that we put our differences aside and embrace each other’s strengths to create the best result as opposed to just continuing to throw spaghetti, point the finger and hope someone listens?  I look forward to your thoughts.