The vocal detractors of “money bail” often point to Washington D.C. as shining example of how things could be if we eliminated secured accountable private bail. Sadly, they couldn’t be more right.
In Washington D.C. they release 85% of accused criminals awaiting trial on unsecured bail through such a program. Program administrators claim that a whopping 87% of those released through their bloated government agency actually show up to court, though this figure is highly suspect. Even if accurate, having 13% of all accused criminals not show for trial hardly seems worth bragging about. Any bondsman who had 13% of his defendants on the lam would be looking for a new line of work.
Washington D.C. has tens of thousands of open felony warrants, and of course no one from the Pretrial Services Agency goes out looking for any of them. They do claim to send friendly text messages — which surely has D.C.’s most dangerous fugitives quaking in their boots.
On paper the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia looks fantastic. In return for the hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer dollars ($231,304,986 in 2015) they produce beautiful four-color reports and lofty mission statements like this:
The Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia (PSA) assists judicial officers in both the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and the United States District Court for the District of Columbia by conducting a risk assessment for every arrested person who will be presented in court and formulating release or detention recommendations based upon the arrestee’s demographic information, criminal history, and substance abuse and/or mental health information.
For defendants who are placed on conditional release pending trial, PSA provides supervision and treatment services that reasonably assure that they return to court and do not engage in criminal activity pending their trial and/or sentencing.
PSA supervises approximately 16,000 defendants each year, and has oversight for approximately 4,000 individuals on any given day. PSA’s caseloads include individuals being supervised on a full range of charges from misdemeanor property offenses to felony murder. PSA administers evidence-based and data-informed risk assessment and supervision practices to identify factors related to pretrial misconduct and to maximize the likelihood of arrest-free behavior and court appearance during the pretrial period. PSA continues to improve its identification of defendants who pose a higher risk of pretrial failure, enhance its supervision and oversight of these defendants.
Supervise defendants to support court appearance and enhance public safety. PSA effectively monitors or supervises pretrial defendants to promote court appearance and public safety.
It sounds impressive, right? Of course most jurisdictions would be hard pressed to budget $230 million in order to supervise 4,000 defendants. (It’s nice to be the Federal Government.) Regardless, the Pretrial Services Agency has served the District of Columbia for nearly 50 years and is widely recognized by advocates of publicly funded pretrial release programs as a national leader in the field of pretrial supervision. They regard the Pretrial Services Agency’s “innovative supervision and treatment programs” as models for the criminal justice system.
What does this actually mean when they brag about how well this government program supervises and monitors accused criminals who are released pretrial? According to their own questionable records, more than 13 of every 100 released to their “supervision” abscond. And as for the ones that don’t become fugitives? How, precisely, are they supervised in order to support court appearance and enhance public safety?
In April of this year, Quincy Green, 44, was arrested in Washington D.C. and accused of gun charges. He was released from jail pretrial through the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia. Green was enrolled in the program’s most restrictive form of pretrial release: a GPS tracking bracelet. He joined the ranks of some 400 other defendants in D.C. who are awaiting trial and roaming about the capital while wearing a GPS tracker.
On May 19, 2016, Dana Hamilton was fatally shot. D.C. police suspected that Quincy Green was the murderer but the Pretrial Services Agency insisted that Green was confined to his apartment and that the GPS tracker proved he was not in the area where the murder took place. Eyewitness testimony and even sightings of Green by police officers were dismissed because the agency’s GPS data “proved” otherwise.
Finally the police obtained a search warrant based in part on a statement that the “devise barely moved” over the course of three days, something that somehow escaped the notice of the pretrial agency engaged in actively “monitoring” his whereabouts.
Police found the GPS tracking devise in Green’s apartment, attached to his prosthetic leg.
“I don’t understand how someone could put this device on a prosthetic leg,” said Sgt. Matthew Mahl, chairman of the D.C. police union. “It is frustrating for us as police officers to have one of our defendants released, especially when talking about dangerous crime like guns–and then to know that the accountability for these defendants isn’t always up to par.”
The director of the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia said all the right things, of course, including “This is the first instance where something like this has happened, and the results were tragic.”
It’s no doubt the first time they put a GPS tracker on a fake leg but it’s certainly not the first or last time that they release violent criminals with no one held accountable for either appearance in court or public safety. Guess how many employees of the pretrial agency will be fired over the murder of Dana Hamilton? Do you think they will cancel the contract with the private contractor who supplies and fits the GPS bracelets on the accused criminals they release? It’s naive to think that either will happen. Rather, the pretrial releases agency will continue to sell gullible taxpayers and politicians a bill-of-goods, that they safely release and supervise accused criminals.
Imagine the immense indifference and utter apathy required in order to fit a GPS tracker to a fake leg. This is far more than a forgivable lapse or simple mistake. This is the act of a person with absolute security that comes from knowing he cannot actually be held accountable. You would never ever find a bondsman making such a mistake since by definition he or she is accountable. This kind of couldn’t-possibly-care-less attitude thrives amongst government employees where no one is actually held responsible for what happens. The budget of Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia will not be adjusted one penny following this tragedy. After a flurry of memorandums regarding not fitting the GPS trackers over a sock, the murder of Dana Hamilton will be quickly forgotten.
But it will not be forgotten by the 72-year old mother of the murdered victim: “This was the worst thing that ever happened to me. That man was supposed to be in his house.”