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
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.