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The Cost Of Bailing Out The Bail Bond Industry

 

Forty-four years ago, VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) assigned a young volunteer, just out of law school, to create Dade County's (and Florida's) first pretrial release program. “The battle continues,” Judge Tom Peterson told me by e-mail. “The commercial bail system is more flawed than ever. “

                Miami-Dade Senior Judge Peterson, who presides over bond hearings, wrote a letter to Florida State Senator Victor Crist, protesting the proposed bailout of the bail bond industry via a law that would emasculate pretrial detention.

                Dear Senator Crist,

    I have recently had the opportunity to read a document published by the bail bond "industry" entitled  "Taxpayer Funded Pretrial Release: A Failed System". The document was given to me by a fellow Judge and I assume that it is being circulated to members of the Florida Judiciary and Legislature in the context of the current Legislative Session, as a component of the "industry's" objective of further curtailing or effectively eliminating our Pretrial Services Program, administered by our Department of Corrections. The document represents nothing more than a compilation of false, erroneous and misleading information which should not go unanswered.

     My personal experience with Public Pretrial Release began in 1966 when, as a recent law school graduate, I was involved as one of the creators of Miami-Dade County' Pretrial Release Program.  Subsequent to that experience I served as prosecutor for eighteen years and Chief Assistant State Attorney to both Richard Gerstein and Janet Reno. Since 1989 I served as a Circuit Court Judge and then as a Senior Judge assigned, ironically, to bond hearings. I currently continue to serve in that capacity. I have also been an Adjunct Professor of Criminology at the University of Miami for ten years while serving as a Judge. Secured Bail and Public Bail: A Background The rationale for the creation of the public bail program in 1966 was and is that surety bonds were beyond the reach of the indigent offenders who then crowded our jails despite ample community ties and minimal prior records.

    Unable to post a surety bond they sat in jail for at least 21 days.  Were the public Pretrial Release Program in Miami-Dade County to be curtailed today, we would revert to the same jail overcrowding status that precipitated Pretrial Release programs 45 years ago.

    Today, the cost of incarcerating one inmate for one day is $130 of taxpayer dollars. Before addressing the falsehoods and errors in the bail "industry's" glossy publication, a bit of history may be helpful.  Posting financial bond has been a practice in place for centuries.  The premise has been that the posting of one's own financial assets, and their loss should the offender abscond, would provide an incentive for the accused offender to appear in court.

    Over time, presumably because of the recurring issue of the inequity of that system for indigents or others unable to pay the total amount of a bond, a new player appeared: the bailbondsman. For a fee of ten percent of the bond (the premium) and collateral for the remaining 90% (deed to a house or other security - which represents the genesis of the term "secured" release), the accused defendant was released to the bondsman who, in turn, was and is backed by an insurance company.

    Gradually it became apparent that most defendants, being indigent, could not afford secured bail and, irrespective of community ties, remained in jail. The first criminal defendant released to the new Dade Pretrial Release Program, for example, was an 18 year old Liberty City resident whose family had lived in the same home for 20 years, who had no prior record and who was charged with being a passenger in a stolen car. He had been in jail 45 days before becoming the first defendant released to the Pretrial Release Program. He was released under my supervision, was required to physically report in every Friday (which is still the program requirement) and I was required to locate him and if I could not a warrant was issued, as is the case today with both secured bail and public pretrial release.

    Today that 45 days in jail would cost the taxpayer $ 5,800. Any professionally conducted comparison of the two critical issues, (1) comparative costs of those kept in jail because of inability to post bond compared to the costs of release to a public bail program, and (2) a comparison of the non-appearance rate of those released to the Pretrial Services Program with those released on bond, will immediately demonstrate the public policy error inherent in any way further restricting those eligible for Pretrial Release.

    With respect to the second issue, I am attaching the 2009 failure to appear statistics of Miami-Dade's Pretrial Services Program which is 4 %.  I challenge Miami-Dade's bail bond "industry" to produce their own non-appearance rate. In reality they cannot.

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Aaron

We are not opposing pre trial for the indigents, we are opposing pre trial for the defendants that can afford their own supervised release.

You really do not get it. I run bail bond agencies in several states. We require physical and telephone check-ins, and in some instances rehabilitation programs and counseling as well as ankle bracelets. We also apprehend our forfeitures or pay the penal amount of the bond (which is revenue for the state) if we cannot catch them. We do not rely and over burden the police departments to server our warrants. We provide the same services that pretrial does at no expense to the taxpayer. Why should taxpayers fund the criminal element of our society? These people broke the law and now we have to pay for them. I do not think that is the way we should spend our tax dollars. Let the accused fund their own supervision if they want out of jail not the taxpayer.

Michael Froomkin

Thanks for one more piece of "false, erroneous and misleading information" from the bail bonds industry. In fact, the folks in question are not, for all we know, "people who broke the law"; rather they are ACCUSED of breaking the law. At the time of pre-trial release they are as legally innocent as anyone else. Making them pay on the theory that they must be guilty is Alice in Wonderland stuff: "sentence first, verdict afterward."

jax

How ironic that the judge who created the first Pre Trial Program in Dade County; who still presides at bond hearings releasing most defendant's into his pre trial programs is the same Judge who is quoted as saying that "the commercial bail system is more flawed than ever". Interesting isn't it? With all due respect Judge, did you read HB445?? If you had, you would see those you are so worried about, people who can't afford bail with non violent offenses would be released into your programs. You know very well, or atleast you should, that those released into the PTS program do NOT report in person. Judge, please tell me when in the world one of your PTS employees was EVER required to locate the defendant when he failed to appear? Even if that were true Judge, please tell me what that employee could do with that defendant? Nothing! He does not have power of arrest. Bail Bondsmen supervise, monitor, call court dates, located defendants who fail to appear, apprehend them and surrender them back into custody at NO cost to the tax payer. No one who can afford bail will sit in jail, they will pay their own bond. What is wrong with that? Give the millions of dollars it takes to fund Pre Trial Services to our teachers! Allow them the opportunity to educate our children so they don't grow up to be criminals! Oh yeah, in reference to your statistics showing failure to appear rates reported by PTS, they are worthless! Take a look at the OPPAGA report that states the programs did NOT report all information as required by FS907 therefore rendering them inaccurate. If that does not satisfy you, take a look at the recent Dept. of Justice report that shows Surety bail has the lowest failure to appear rates...FYI.

Norman

STOP! If you can afford a private attorney, you don't get the Public Defender. If you can afford groceries, you don't get food stamps. If you can afford your rent, you don't get Section Eight. If you can afford health insurance, you don't get Medicaid. What am i missing here?? If you can afford to post bail, you don't get Pre Trial Release Program!! Stop wasting tax dollars on goernment programs trying to take over private enterprise that gets the job done at no cost to us!

BailInsights

What I think is interesting is why does Mr Grimm, starts off saying that the whitepaper, "Taxpayer Funded Pretrial Release - A Failed System is, and I quote, "a compilation of false, erroneous and misleading information that should not go unanswered"...but never than states anything to show it. This is probably because government sponsored pretrial release programs and their supporters have never been able to prove or justify their existence with any statistics or facts. It is all based on bashing the bail industry. The FACTS are that the private bail industry is the most effective means of pretrial release. For 22 years the Bureau of Justice agreed and proved this...until of course a few weeks ago they were told by the powers that be to recant their 22 years of research. If you want to see the booklet that Mr. Grimm is referring to visit http://www.pretrialtruth.com and see the TRUTH not the MYTHS of prviate surety bail versus government "get out of jail free" programs. This argument should be about public safety and ensuring it for our neighborhoods and families and private surety bail is the best way to do that.

Tony Suggs

Bail is not used as a form of punishment as alluded to by Michael Froomkin's comment. It is just one of several options for release from jail.

Whether the court collects the bail premium or the bail agent does, it does not go towards any fines, restitution if the defendant found guilty or innocent.

So bail is not a form of punishment.

Is it considered punishment for an innocent person to have to pay for legal representation before his or her case is adjudicated?

What lawyer would take a case for no money up front and wait to get paid only if the defendant is found guilty? Because, according to Mr. Froomkin's theory, they should only pay if they are in fact found quilty.

Michael Froomkin

Bail is supposed to be only about the risk that someone won't show up. It's not about punishment. It's not about revenue generation -- we don't have, shouldn't have, a special tax on being accused of something.

The state is not on par with a private lawyer: the state gets to choose who it arrests, the private criminal lawyer doesn't get to choose who the state turns into potential clients. The analogy is totally flawed.

[And, by the way, many people do believe that having to pay a lawyer to help exonerate you -- which can be very costly -- is an unfair punishment if you are in fact innocent. But that's a separate issue, and not something easy to fix.]

To repeat: there is absolutely nothing wrong with 'get of jail free' if there is reason to believe the defendant (still presumed innocent) will show up for trial. The purpose of bail is to create an incentive to show up if this is in (reasonable) doubt.

surety bonds

A bail bond is a document which assures the court that a person charged with an offense, and who typically is in jail, will, if released, appear for future court dates.

I Know Bail

It is a shame that you are a Judge in any Court of Law, Mr. Froomkin. Your ideas and opinions are obviously from the very far left. It sounds as though you have sympathy for the accused. Although you are correct in the "innocent until proven guilty" thought, the totally innocent is hardly ever arrested. Thanks to all the errors in police work and prosecuting attorney lack of competence, guilty persons are found not guilty or cases are dismissed.

The facts are is that the accused never posts his/ her bond. It is the family or friends that are responsible for arranging the bail. Although the defendant may not be able to "afford" the bail, it is never they who are funding it. Private bail has the ability to hold others accountable financially for the defendants actions after release whereas public pretrial release can not. It is the thought of this burden on the family or friends that help insure the appearance of the defendant.

I have been in the private bail business for over 25 years and I can tell you that no matter how "secure" the accused seems to be, there is no guarantee they will appear in court. Why should the tax payer take the risk of securing the defendants appearance? Why should my tax dollar be spent on babysitting the accused? Why, as a tax payer, am I responsible for paying the costs associated with apprehending the fugitive after failing to appear? Your big government ideas have bankrupt this country and continue to dig us deeper and deeper into debt.

It has been proven in almost every aspect of business that public funded programs are not as successful as the private sector. Period.

I Know Bail

Let me also add that for a Judge to determine the release of a defendant and to police the defendant after release contradicts the ideals that this country was established. The Judicial Branch and the Executive Branch of government are to be completely separate of one another, not combined.

LE

How ironic to read how a judge in miami-dade county can sit behind a bench and dictate how good it is to use tax-payers funds to promote crime.
I guess is all about personal interest, Pretrial release program only work for the indigent(the poor) not foe people who are charge with credit card fraud, medic-aid fraud, insurance fraud, drug sell, do your homework look at the life styles this defendants have, the cars they drive, and you call them indigents, Judge with all respect you have serious issues and once again it proves why crime is so high in miami-dade county, pretrial release is a "get out of jail free pass" what about the families that have been victimized by the same criminals you release for free today and the tax-funded program you are pushing to take over the private sector.
It is time for the Federal commission to conduct hearings and stop the corruption in Miami-dade county.
Bail Bonds does not cost the tax-payers, Pretrial is funded by tax payers and yes it is a flaw, and all it does is promote more crime.

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