Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Public Sector Pretrial Release: When it Comes to FREE Bail, Bigger isn’t Better

Every week, I make and receive phone calls from agents all over the country sharing the challenges and opportunities they face on a daily basis.  Recently one of the most common issues I have heard from agents is the increase in competition they face.  Why that doesn’t sound like anything too new or interesting, it actually is.  Because the competitor most agents are talking about are not other bail bond agents, but rather public sector pretrial release agencies.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is not a blog post about the poor bail agent losing business and making less money.  Rather, this is a blog post about tax dollars being spent on an inferior product.  And for the record, these are tax dollars that don’t have to be spent.  Let me explain.

Last week I spoke with a bail agent in Southern California that had posted a bond for a client.  The agent had spent several hours working closely with the family to put together a rock solid bond.  After waiting close to 19 hours for the defendant to be released from custody, the agent finally called the clerk at the jail for another update.  It was at this point that the clerk informed her that she needed to come and pick up the bond.  What had apparently happened is the defendant had been released through a public sector pretrial release program even though they had already obtained release through a bail agent.

Another agent told me a story how a few weeks back they were with a family on the way to the jail to release their son.   The father’s cell phone rang and it was someone from the public sector pretrial services office calling to tell them not to get a bail bond but rather wait and see if their son could be released through their program for FREE.  Yes…this really happened…and it is not the first time I have heard this type of story.

While most people might not see the issue here, there is a pretty big one.  Public sector pretrial release programs were designed back in the 1960’s for one purpose…and that is to assist in the release of individuals who were deemed indigent or had special needs (by the way, a concept that the commercial bail industry is fully in support of).  So if public sector (taxpayer funded) pretrial release programs were designed for the indigent, than why are they releasing someone who had already been able to financially secure their release?  This person was not indigent.

Once again, this is not about a bail bond agent losing out on a bond.  It is about a complete and utter misuse of taxpayer money with little or no thought put towards public safety and the ultimate purpose of pretrial release in the first place, which is to “ensure appearance in court.”  Every study ever done on the subject of pretrial release shows that financially secured release through a commercial bail bond is the MOST effective form of ensuring appearance and in the process ensuring accountability.

So the question becomes then, why are defendants who have already secured release with a bail bond agent, still being let out for FREE through public sector programs?  Why are public sector pretrial services employees calling the families of the defendant telling them not to get a commercial bail bond? In times when budgets are slim and public safety is at risk, why are our elected officials allowing our tax dollars to fund and expand these FREE bail programs beyond their intended use when they have been proven time and time again to be ineffective?  Why are defendants being told to wait in jail longer (which costs money) instead of bailing out sooner with a commercial bail bond?  These are all troubling and very good questions and ones that every taxpayer should be asking their county supervisors and local government leaders.   Below is a list of questions that you can send to your local officials. If they can’t answer them, you should demand that they do, because the answers will most likely open their eyes to misguided and ineffective use of public sector pretrial programs.  I look forward to your comments.

  1. How many defendants a month are released through your county’s pretrial release program?
  2. How many of those defendants were deemed indigent?
  3. How many of those defendants made all of their court appearances?
  4. How many committed more crime while they were being supervised by a public sector pretrial program?
  5. What happens when someone doesn't show up for court?  Who goes and gets them to return?
  6. How much money does your county spend on its pretrial program?
  7. How much money does your county spend when defendants fail to appear? 
  8. How much time does it take for a defendant to secure a commercial bail bond and be released?
  9. How much time does it take for a defendant to be released through a public sector pretrial release program?

I look forward to hearing your comments.