Thursday, May 8, 2014

We Don't Need No Stinking Truth...The Unfortunate Mantra of the Public Sector Pretrial Movement

A couple weeks back I wrote a blog on a recent study released by the National Institute of Corrections.  The focus of the study was an assessment of the New Orleans Pretrial Services Program.  As I pointed out in my previous blog post, An Assessment of the New Orleans Pretrial Services Program is no Assessment at All, the findings from this study raised many questions in my mind, but none more revealing than the following quote below from the report:

“The current verification process is time consuming and is contributing to the staffing demands and length of detention time and is likely to not have an impact on a defendant’s pretrial success if released from custody.”

If you are someone that has paid any attention to the public sector/private sector pretrial release debate that has been going on for the past several years, then you are probably rereading the statement above over and over in disbelief.  I know that because that is exactly what I did.  And to be honest, this statement is extremely enlightening as a reason for why jails are overcrowded and why throwing more tax dollars at a solution is ultimately inefficient and ineffective.

Verification of a defendant’s information is not only necessary for the pretrial process, but absolutely essential.  Ask any bail bond agent, and they will without hesitation agree.  The accuracy of the information you collect from the defendant is directly related to their potential to show up and your ability to retrieve them should they not.  However, according to the NIC’s report, validating this information is not important and instead time consuming, expensive and ineffective.  It is like saying that building a house with nails takes too much time, is expensive and ultimately doesn’t matter in the quality of the end product.  So instead, don’t use nails and just put the wood together and hope it stays upright.  As we all know, this is a ridiculous statement.  Verifying a defendant’s information is vital to fully understanding and managing the risk that every defendant poses…period.

Additionally, for as long as I can remember, the public sector pretrial community has pointed the finger at the commercial bail industry as the cause of jail overcrowding.  This statement is further proof of that misguided accusation’s fallacy while at the same time an eye opening revelation of public sector pretrial’s role in jail overcrowding… “The current verification process is time consuming and is contributing to…length of detention time.” It is unbelievable and extremely telling to me that the NIC report would not only make this claim, but make it in a way that they see is a positive statement in support of more public sector pretrial services.

The statement above also sheds light on another false claim that has been made by public sector pretrial for many years.  That is, that public sector pretrial service programs save money because they let defendants out and save the county the cost of a jail bed.  What they never point out is that most of the costs of running a jail are fixed costs and are not reduced by simply letting a defendant out.  That cost savings is almost nominal.

The compelling part of this statement is that it readily admits that these pretrial programs require more staffing to run them, which means more money.  So you are releasing a defendant to supposedly save money, but hiring multiple employees to manage that process for a net loss.  By the way, just for the record, don’t even get me started on the true cost of these pretrial programs…that is a whole other blog.  Eric Granof, recently wrote about that cost in an op-ed for the crime report.

So let me recap.  The conclusions of the NIC report on New Orleans Pretrial Services Program state the following: First, verifying a defendant’s information is NOT important and takes too much time which leads to jail overcrowding.  Second, public sector pretrial programs are costly because they must hire more staff if they are going to do an effective job thus eliminating the mythical savings generated from a fixed cost of a jail bed.  At the end of the day, I haven’t ever read a report written by a proponent of public sector pretrial release program that provided a better reason for using commercial bail than this one.  All I can say is thank you NIC for shedding some light on some important failures of public sector pretrial services.  I look forward to hearing your comments.