I wonder if anyone in central Florida watched the hatchet job that recently aired (November 5, 2015) on Channel 9 wftv.com

The piece was titled9investigatesbanner: “9 Investigates the high cost of keeping people in jail” and opened with a breathless news anchor Martie Salt exclaiming: “It’s costing you millions of dollars a year to lock up people who haven’t even been convicted of a crime yet.”

“Nine investigates: Follow the money that’s working to keep the county jail full year round.”

Co-anchor Bob Opsahl chimed in: “As investigative reporter Christopher Heath discovered, jail and bail is big money! And you’re paying for it!” 

Curiously, Heath opened his “investigative” report with the criminal case of Greg Dodge. According to Heath, Dodge drove drunk and killed a 10-year old girl when he drove into a parked car on the turnpike. After he was arrested for this heinous crime, Dodge put up bond. He pledged his own assets and those of his parents and posted bond through a bail agent – meaning he was released at no cost to the taxpayers. The bail agent insured that Dodge appeared for his trial where he was sentenced and sent to prison – meaning the bail agent did his or her job. Again, at no cost to the taxpayers.  This point did not fit Heath’s narrative and so instead he strangely used this case to illustrate that unlike Dodge, some accused criminals might not be able to use their family’s resources to post bond.

Incidentally, Dodge served a substantial prison sentence for his crime. The private bail agent fulfilled his obligation to the court by ensuring Dodge’s appearance.

Heath’s crackerjack reporting also revealed the following:

  •  “Volusia County has a robust pretrial release program.”              
  • “It’s (the Volusia pretrial program) looked to release suspects with non-violent offenses, monitoring them until their court date, saving the county $60 per day. “
  • “Volusia County estimates it saves about $3 million a year through its use of pretrial release.”

Heath reached this bizarre conclusion: “If pretrial release is so effective in Volusia why do more than half of the counties in Florida not have the same program?”

Here are a few questions for Heath that I would love to see answered:

  • Is killing a 10-year-old girl while driving drunk considered a “non-violent” offense?
  • Since Greg Dodge was out on a private bond, didn’t the bonding agency also save the county $60 per day? How much did the bail agent charge the county for those savings? Do you think a defendant with nothing at risk would voluntarily appear when he is facing a sentence of decades in prison?

Here are some facts that Heath somehow missed: according to their own records, Volusia County’s pretrial release program released 4,089 defendants in 2013. The budget for this program was $1,317,422, which comes out to a cost to the taxpayers of approximately $322 per released defendant. According to the program’s own records, 31% of the defendants released to their program were also released on private bonds. Of course the bail agents did not charge taxpayers anything to affect these 1,268 releases. Every single defendant who was released on bond (How many were there, Mr. Heath?) saved Volusia county over $60 per day, at no cost to the taxpayers.

 “While Volusia County hails its program as a success that saves taxpayers money while keeping people out of jail, state leaders have not been nearly as supportive of the program.”

Heath suggests that the reason these government programs are not expanding quickly enough is because bail agents have supposedly given a whopping $280,000 to Florida politicians since 2010. If true, this works out to $56,000 per year. Given that there are about 2,400 hard-working private taxpaying licensed bail agents in Florida, it works out to approximately a $23 donation per agent per year.  The pretrial program in Volusia County alone costs over $1.3 million annually.

Here are questions for anyone interested in actually conducting an investigation, as opposed to repeating what the government program lobbyist spoon feeds you: How many open felony bench warrants are there currently in Volusia County?  If all the people who are released to this program are so well “monitored” and “supervised” why the thousands of open warrants?

When a person on bond fails to appear, the bail agent apprehends the fugitive. If unsuccessful in returning the fugitive, the bail agent pays a substantial penalty for failures to appear. What happens when a person released to the program fails to appear?

Shame on Christopher Heath and Channel 9 in Orlando. Your story should have been about why are taxpayers posting bogus bail bonds for accused criminals?

If you’re looking for real reporting this week, try the Albuquerque Journal. The headline is slightly misleading but the reporting is real.  When a drunk driver fled, the only one interested in returning him to justice was the bondsman, who tracked down his man in a neighboring state and returned him to justice.

“We provide hundreds of jobs, pay millions in taxes, provide community safety and get people to court so justice can be done,” says Albuquerque bail bondsman Gerald Madrid, president of the Bail Bond Association of New Mexico and a member of a family with three generations in the bail business across the state.