Financially secured bail

A moment with bail agent John Milano

A willingness to work hard and serve the public leads to success.

One quality that all thriving bail agents seem to share is a superlative work ethic. Hall-of-Fame bail agent Russell Faibisch is fond of winking at newly licensed bail bond agents and letting them in on the real secret to his success:

“One night I went to the jail. Seven years later I went home.”

Florida bail agent John Milano seems to be cut from the same bolt of cloth. Milano is always working. We spent time recently with Milano at one of his Florida bail offices. Between taking phone calls and meeting with indemnitors, we discussed the myth of poor people languishing in jail and how come you never see pretrial release employees at the jail after 5pm.  After he finished laughing, he also had a few things to say in response to the fabricated claim that bondsman don’t actually locate, apprehend and surrender their bail skips.

“They broke the law and many times they don’t want to face the music.”

Milano works during all hours of the day and night to help people to secure the release of their accused friends and family members. He routinely works with multiple family members in order to post small as well as more lucrative larger bonds.

With the posting of each bail bond he writes, Milano guarantees the State of Florida that his defendants will appear in court. He notifies each client of his or her court date. When a defendant fails to appear in court and absconds, Milano and his staff of licensed bail agents locate, apprehend and surrender the fugitive back to the county jail. On the rare occasions when they fail to accomplish this in a timely manner they pay the state a substantial penalty.

Milano — like all other private bail agents — does not charge the taxpayers anything to perform this invaluable role in our criminal justice system.

A tale of two conferences: Publicly funded pretrial release advocates are very good at spending someone else’s money to attack those of us who have to earn our own way.

Representatives of approximately 200 federal, state, and local agencies are meeting in Washington DC this week to attend the so-called “Worldwide Pretrial Innovators Convention.”

This gathering is hosted by the folks at the Pretrial Justice Institute, headed by their CEO, Cherise Fanno Burdeen. Ms Burdeen delivered the keynote address to her convention of government employees. The audio in the clip below is horrible but in just over a minute, Ms. Burdeen disparages the legal giant Paul Clement, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, “and my favorite, the reality stars Dog the Bounty Hunter and Beth Chapman who have traveled to Georgia, Connecticut, Harris County and other places and appealed to their Twitter followers whenever the threat of reform arises.”

Each of the attendees at this conference has two things in common. The first is that they would like to eliminate what they refer to as “money bail.” (This is what judges and bail agents refer to as secured, accountable bail.) The second thing the attendees have in common is that none of them use their own hard-earned money to pay for the considerable costs of attending the convention.

The folks attending this lavish affair which is taking place at a $250+ per night Washington DC hotel are employed by government agencies or in some cases via grants or other pseudo public funding. They don’t have to spend any of their own money to live it up on someone else’s dime. That someone else, of course, is invariably us taxpayers. They use our taxes to host a party convention during which they strategize how best to eliminate our profession.

Incredibly, the folks at PJI actually provide pretrial release government employees with a helpful template for them to use in obtaining the thousands of dollars needed to fund the costs of attending the convention:

<Date>

 Dear <Decision-maker>,

I would like to request funding to attend the Worldwide Pretrial Innovators Convention (Pi-Con) in Washington, DC, March 8-9th, 2017. This convention, the first of its kind, will be hosted by the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI). The event offers a unique experience to convene both policy leaders and practitioners to explore the possibilities of innovation within pretrial justice. It will be a gathering of some of the boldest leaders in pretrial policy and practice in the country and is designed to offer exceptional educational and networking opportunities to increase the effectiveness of pretrial policies and practices.

It is anticipated that 250 federal, state and local organizations and agencies will be represented. This diverse attendee base will maximize my opportunities for sharing ideas and solutions to bring home and implement in <Your city name here>. The event is for and with the unstoppable, mindful, creative and fun people who see pretrial injustice every day and are compelled to fix it—intellectually, operationally and emotionally.

The conference will include sessions and learning opportunities where I can gather tangible takeaways to bring back home on a variety of topics important to our community, such as simulation exercises of various pretrial issues, discussions with impacted community members, workshops on turning pretrial data into effective policies, the media’s role in pretrial reform and more. Specific workshop titles include <Add specific conference workshops and session titles from the conference website to customize for your city’s/town’s needs and interests>. Given that the conference is designed to be experiential, I am confident that these workshops will not only be advantageous to my work, but also beneficial to our local jurisdiction as well.

Outside of the sessions, there will be countless opportunities for me to meet and build relationships with policy and practice leaders and experts from all over the country who may serve as key contacts for both present and future initiatives in <Your city name here>. The opportunity to make valuable connections at this convention will be priceless.

Part of what makes Pi-Con a “must attend” event is the exclusivity of having a safe place to create new ideas, focus on innovation and being able to network with leaders in the field. PJI is the hub of this growing pretrial community, and this convention celebrates those who advance pretrial justice at all levels within government, the community, and stakeholder groups. This convention is on the brink of what will be the future of the pretrial justice world, it is an opportunity that I feel compelled to take.

<The numbers in brackets below will need to be adjusted to reflect the current pricing. The travel costs vary as well and should be changed to reflect your costs.>

<You will need to insert your travel cost numbers here>

Here is the breakdown of conference costs:

Roundtrip Airfare: <$xxxx

Transportation: <$xxxx>

Hotel: $247 plus tax per night

Meals & Incidentals: Govt. per diem, Washington, DC $69 per day (through Sept. 2017)

Conference Fee: $600 through February 25th, 2017

The total costs associated with attending this conference are: <$xxxx>.

With such a great offering of educational content and relationship-building opportunities in one place, having representatives from <Your city name here> at the conference will afford our team of leader’s access to top strategies and best practices that will help create lasting change in the pretrial world. Attached is the full agenda.

Sincerely,  <Your Name Here>

In contrast, the Professional Bail Agents of the United States (PBUS) holds two conferences each year to network and provide information, education and representation for the 15,000 bail agents nationwide. Each of the PBUS attendees has to actually earn the funds needed for them to travel to, register and participate in the conference. Private bail agents have to leave their businesses and pay from their own pocket all of the costs associated with participating in the conference. At the most recent PBUS conference the hotel rates were $49 per night if booked in advance. (Astoundingly, one of the topics at the PJI convention in their $250+ per night hotel will be the absurd claim that private bail agents transfer wealth from the poor communities. Seriously. After this, they will share expensive drinks at the bar while they discuss making un-convicted defendants pay for check-ins, urine tests, GPS bracelets and anger management counseling.)

Thankfully, many bail agents from across the United States see the wisdom in supporting our national association and are willing to make the financial sacrifice required in order to support both the PBUS and their own livelihoods.

The pendulum is finally starting to swing the other way. Policy makers and politicians are beginning to learn what experienced criminal court judges already know: that private, secured bail serves to assure the appearance of the accused. These “no money bail” charlatans and swindlers are being exposed for what they are: proponents of still more failed and expensive government programs with no accountability for public safety. They won the battle in New Jersey (temporarily) but are clearly losing the war — in the courts, in the street and even in the press. The so-called “bail reform” that has been enacted in New Jersey is proving to be a dangerous, expensive and unmitigated disaster.

The sham artists at PJI like to point out that in Washington DC (the location of their lavish convention) no one is required to put up “money bail” to secure their appearance in court. They stand silent on the outgoing police chief’s assertion that the criminal justice system in that city is “beyond broken.” None of the break-out sessions at their convention will address the hundreds of thousands of felony fugitives who fail to appear in court.

The next PBUS conference will be held from July 16-19, 2017 at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld. Room rates are $149. Unfortunately, the PBUS does not supply bail agents with a helpful template to scam taxpayer dollars to cover your costs. In spite of this, bail agents will find the conference worthwhile. I encourage all bail agents to attend and participate. And if you do go, take a minute to thank Beth Chapman for the work she’s doing for us. Judging by the video clip above it’s clear that she’s caught the attention of the folks who want us out-of-business.

Our own money makes us accountable. Taxpayer dollars and government employees? Not so much.

Florida bail agents are required to successfully complete fourteen hours of continuing education every two years. CE courses are offered across the state of Florida by the Florida Bail Agents Association (“FBAA”). Florida bail agents have other choices besides the state association for their CE courses since there are other approved providers, including some insurance companies, who offer courses.  But when agents pay tuition to the FBAA 100% of the money goes to the association. Most of the money raised through the FBAA CE courses is used to pay the lobbyist.

Who is accountable?

Government run pretrial release: “We hope defendants appear in court but if they don’t no one is actually responsible.”

So when you take a CE course through the FBAA you not only meet the legal requirement to keep your license but also are helping to fund the association that works for the betterment of all Florida bail agents.  This is the reason why I set aside one day each month to teach CE courses for the FBAA. All of the instructors of FBAA CE courses are volunteers.

Anyhow, I recently received a telephone call from a Miami bail agent who took one of the CE courses which I had taught. He was complaining that his $100 tuition check to the FBAA hadn’t been cashed even though it had been almost a week since the course took place.  I reminded him that I was a volunteer and assured him that all of the tuition checks for the course were forwarded by me to the FBAA office on the day after the class via UPS delivery. I followed up and confirmed that his check was at the FBAA office and slated for deposit the following day.  I had a passing thought that perhaps this gentleman was being obsessively frugal or controlling. Later that day, however, I checked my personal bank account balances on line. When I couldn’t identify a $9.49 charge from Amazon, I immediately called my wife to investigate the charge. (She confirmed she had purchased something.)

The lesson I took from these too ordinary small occurrences is that we pay careful attention to our own money. Our own money matters to us. Whether the government values our money is a different matter entirely.

At the same times as these two minor transactions occurred – my $9 purchase and the bail agent’s $100 check — a news story broke that $3.6 million dollars was missing from one of Miami Beach’s bank accounts. Evidently over an unspecified period of time — likely many months — someone illegally accessed bank information online and illegally transferred money from this City of Miami Bank account. They did this over and over again until they had stolen about $3.6 million of taxpayer money from the City.

With no evidence whatsoever, the Miami Beach City Manager was quick to assert his astounding speculation that he doesn’t believe that city employees are to blame for stealing the money. At the same time, two managers in the city finance department who should have noticed all of the illegal transfers were gracious enough to resign.  The city’s chief financial officer offered to demote herself to deputy finance director. Here, however, is the quote from the City Manager that left me dumbfounded:

“I don’t think that we could have prevented this, but we should have caught it sooner. This was not just one month of activity. We probably should have caught it earlier, and I’m trying to figure out if we did something wrong and where that happened.”

If we did something wrong? A Miami bail agent has $100 too much in his checking account and it prompts him to make a call and investigate. The City loses $3.6 million in dozens of illegal bank transfers over many months and the top city official says with a straight face that it couldn’t have been prevented. We care about money. Does the government care about our money?

This is food for thought as our opponents renew their ill advised cries to eliminate what they call “money bail.” The alternative to private secured accountable bail is invariably a government funded, government run program.  One of the reasons why private secured bail works so well is because we are financially accountable for the defendant’s appearance in court. And we all value money. Money incentivizes us. Money also matters to the friends and family of the accused who agree to share in the financial accountability for having the defendant appear in court.

Where does the buck stop?

 

The best way to promote any Bail Reform scheme that proposes to eliminate secured accountable bail: Lie and disregard the inconvenient truths.

No rational taxpayer will like the inevitable consequences of releasing all accused criminals on unsecured bail and promises to appear.

New Orleans City Councilman Susan G. Guidry introduced a Municipal Ordinance that would require the jail to release all accused criminals immediately following their booking. For those who must appear before a judge, the proposed ordinance directs the judge to release the accused on his or her own recognizance.

During a September 19, 2016 meeting of the New Orleans City Council Criminal Justice Committee, Municipal Court Judge Paul N. Sens testified and shared some of his experiences as a sitting judge. You can view the entire committee hearing here.

Councilwoman Guidry pretends to be “astounded” that bail bond agents are vehemently opposed to her ordinance. In her mind, large numbers of poor people are forced to languish in jail solely due to their inability to post a bond. Even though everyone accused of a misdemeanor in New Orleans currently sees a judge within 24-hours, Guidry wants accused criminals released immediately on unsecured bonds. Her proposed ordinance includes:

  • “The Court may not place a secured financial condition on a warrant of arrest.”
  • “No defendant may be detained because of failure to abide by a non-financial release condition due to inability to pay.”

Amazingly, this would include defendants with a history of failures to appear.

In an attempt to make her proposals palatable to voters, Councilwoman Guidry falsely claims that this will apply to non-violent misdemeanors only and have no negative impact on public safety or quality of life.  The hearing included this remarkable exchange between Councilwoman Guidry and the Honorable Judge Paul See.

JUDGE SEE: “We do have a large number of failing to appears. . . We have probably in the neighborhood of 40,000. I think the last time I checked we had over 40,000 warrants for people’s arrest for failing to appear in court.”

Councilwoman Guidry doesn’t like this testimony because it conflicts with her unfounded belief that the method of release has no impact on failures to appear in court. She counters with this stumbling attempt to state that secured bail isn’t working:

COUNCILWOMAN GUIDRY: “So obviously the bail doesn’t keep that from happening. The bond does not keep that from happening. You got 40,000 and you know if somebody is gonna not show I would assume they’re not gonna show for whatever they are out once they are out they are not gonna come back whether its that they couldn’t get out until the first hearing so you gave them first hearing and then you gave them a trial date. And they’re not gonna come back for that trial date if that’s who they are or if that’s their circumstance.”

JUDGE SEE: “And really the only difference to that is whether or not a bond company is on the line that they have to pay the court for their failure to appear and they go back and they get that person and bring him to court. That’s the difference.”

COUNCILWOMAN GUIDRY: “And on a municipal charge how often does that happen?”

JUDGE SEE: “Oh, quite a bit actually. When I was in court this morning we had three of them.”

This is honest testimony based upon the honorable judge’s actual courtroom experience. It is not what Councilwoman Guidry wants to hear. It doesn’t fit her false narrative. She goes on to claim that she has “asked for the data” (regarding bondsman writing small bonds and returning their fugitives to municipal court) and claims “We have not been able to get it.”  She follows this with a whopper of a lie:

COUNCILWOMAN GUIDRY: “We’ve just been told by people who practice in the court that as a rule that bondsman won’t write small bonds.”

This is poppycock. Her false statement is immediately challenged by one of her colleagues on the City Council. Does anyone believe for even a second that a City Councilwoman who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee cannot easily obtain the number of secured and unsecured bonds posted in the City of New Orleans Municipal Court? Likewise, the number, and dollar amounts of forfeited secured bonds is a matter of public record maintained by the Clerk of the Court.

Why is it so important for Councilwoman Guidry to pretend that New Orleans bail agents won’t write small bonds? Because no rational person would suggest that it’s better to let all accused criminals out on unsecured promises to appear when the alternative is secured accountable bail that is posted to assure court appearance at no cost to the taxpayers.

Bail Reform Fairy Tales ~ By PJI Executive Director Cherise Fanno Burdeen

The charlatans at the so-called “Pretrial Justice Institute” loudly proclaim to anyone who will listen that “Bail in America is unsafe, unfair and ineffective.” They use a significant amount of other people’s money to disseminate their biased brand of bunk.

Last year they scammed over $3.2 million — mostly from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  According to their website, 95% of the money that the “Institute” obtained was spent on their own personnel, outside consultants, professional services, and travel. At PJI, they are big on “raising awareness.” Though of course they seek to eliminate our livelihood, their actual goal appears to be to raise additional funds.

PJI’s 2015 Annual Report contains a “Letter from Cherise Fanno Burdeen.” After she states “that 2015 was our funniest year on record” (seriously — she really does write this), she concludes her letter by noting:

“There is still much to be done in supporting pretrial systems that meet our national justice needs and values. This includes starting a major fundraising campaign to see us all the way into the end zone by 2020.

So clearly the folks at PJI are good at raising funds, building awareness and spreading the false message that “money bail” is somehow wrong. But how are they when it comes to implementing real pretrial release solutions that actually work?

PJI’s Executive Director Cherise Fanno Burdeen participated in a POLITCO panel discussion on criminal justice that was held at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Watch as she shares her fairy tale prediction of what she thinks will actually happen when you remove financial accountability and personal responsibility from the bail process:

“And people come back to court and they make their court appearances and they stay out of trouble pending trial and we can handle those cases in a far more humane and compassionate way.”

And everyone will live happily ever after. There will be no more fugitives from justice. No one will miss court or be needlessly pretrial detained because the magical risk assessment tests administered by dedicated government workers will accurately predict who intends to commit future crimes and who will seek to evade justice by missing their court dates.

Maybe at the “Institute” they need to stick with fundraising and “building awareness.” There already is a proven method of ensuring that accused defendants released pretrial actually do come back to court and make their court appearances. It’s called private, secured, accountable bail.

A bail agent pledges actual money with the state to guarantee that the defendant will appear in court. If the defendant fails to appear, the bail agent locates, apprehends and surrenders the fugitive back to court. If the bail agent fails to fulfill this obligation, he or she pays a substantial penalty to the state when the bail bond is forfeited. Private independent bail agents fulfill this critical role in the criminal justice system at no cost whatsoever to taxpayers.

I wonder what percentage of her paycheck Cherise Fanno Burdeen would be willing to forego for each defendant who fails to appear in court?

Text messaging defendant court date notifications: A great practice that makes a lot of sense – when it it’s done by private bail agents rather than inept, unaccountable government workers.

The vocal advocates of publicly-funded “free” pretrial release programs have a continuing problem. Large numbers of their clients commit new crimes when released through these programs. More importantly, large numbers of their clients fail to appear in court. Judges, prosecutors and victims of crimes don’t like it when this happens. One option, of course, would be to release accused criminals on secured, monetary bail. When a defendant is released through a private bail agent, there is a tangible financial incentive for the released defendant to do the right thing. The bail agent pays a substantial penalty if they fail to produce his or her defendant in court. To protect this guarantee the bail agent almost invariably enrolls friends and family members to secure the bail bond.

The “no money bail” zealots, however, are adamantly opposed to anyone having skin in the game. They don’t think that anyone should be held financially accountable for the appearance of an accused defendant released pretrial. So in order to solve the problem of unacceptable failure to appear rates, they are now suggesting that simply texting court date reminders will be sufficient to guarantee court appearance.

It is laughable that the hundreds of thousands of fugitives across the country would willingly appear for trial if only they had gotten a friendly text reminding them of their court date.

Further, sending text messages to defendants out on bail is something that many private bail agents have been doing for years. They routinely send reminders and notices to not only the defendant but also friends, family members and employers who have signed on the bond.

One agent, Kahlil Welsh of Orlando, Florida uses text messaging for his own clients. Seeing what an effective tool is it, he founded a company that automates the process and makes it available to other bail agents. You can check out his outstanding mobile messaging platform for bail agents at his ecourtdate website.

According to Kahlil:

“The system is currently in beta testing for a re-launch this year with new features and improved reminders. And if I may recap, text message and email reminders are by no means a fix all solution to defendants failing to appear. It simply acts as an aid to the savvy bondsman who’s seeking to improve customer service and reduce the failure to appear rates caused by forgetful minds. Effectively ensuring a defendants appearance at court will always be a “boots on the ground” hands on effort, best performed by The Private Surety Bail Agent. It is my professional opinion as a 20 year veteran of the bail industry that simply sending  a text, or email to a defendant who has intentionally failed to appear, will not surpass the wealth of resources and the National reach of the local Bail Bondsman.”

Thank you, Kahlil! We couldn’t agree more.

Because everyone else is doing it. Or because everyone else is not doing it.

A look at one of the lame-brained arguments used by opponents of accountable, secured pretrial release.

And, besides, what’s wrong with something that’s uniquely American?

Anyone in the bail bond business knows that there is an increasingly vocal and strident minority who would like to eliminate our profession completely. It doesn’t matter to them how effective we are at guaranteeing the appearance of defendants released pretrial. It doesn’t matter to them that we go out and routinely apprehend dangerous criminals who fail to appear at no cost to the taxpayers. It doesn’t matter to them that we are accountable to the criminal justice system and to the courts. It most certainly doesn’t matter to them that we pay taxes, support families and serve our communities.

None of the relevant facts matter. They are committed to ending what they call “money bail.” (We call it constitutionally protected secured bail.) The more money that these outfits siphon from the public trough, the louder become their cries to eliminate the evils of “money” in the criminal justice system. The irony is not lost on me that these “free” publicly-funded pretrial release advocates solicit “money” donations on their websites and grant applications.

Outfits like PJI burn through copious amounts of hard earned taxpayer “money” to produce bogus “studies” which invariably conclude that accused defendants should be released on unsecured bail bonds. One of their recurring fallacious arguments concerns the role of private commercial bail agents in the United States.

Popular does not always equal right

Popular does not always equal right

They argue that the United States is the only country in the world that has commercial bondsmen. Sometimes their claim is modified to state that only the United States and Singapore have commercial bail. I don’t know if this true or not, but honestly, who cares? The flawed argument is that since other countries don’t have such a system, therefore “money” (ie: secured and accountable) bail here in the United States ought to be eliminated.

First of all, when I went to school this was called an argumentum ad populum. My Mom had a much simpler description, “If all of your idiot friends jumped off of a bridge would you, too?[1] To be clear, what they are saying to policy makers and anyone else who will listen to their poppycock is that if most countries don’t have commercial bail, then commercial bail must not have value. To show you just how hypocritical and disingenuous they are, they will often follow this illogical argument – sometimes in the very following paragraph – with the claim that Washington DC and Kentucky have eliminated commercial bail and therefore the other states in the U.S. should as well. So they are left with this absurd position: Eliminate commercial bail because the overwhelming majority of the other countries don’t have it. Eliminate commercial bail even though the overwhelming majority of jurisdictions in the United States use it.

They are wrong on both counts. Of course it’s preposterous to suggest that commercial bail should be eliminated because other countries don’t have it. We have commercial bail because it is effective and serves a critical role in our criminal justice system – not because of its popularity in other countries. Besides the fact that such an argument is illogical, what is wrong with something being uniquely American?

I am proud of my profession as a bail agent. I am also proud to be a citizen of the United States. I could be wrong, but I think that – just like commercial bail – the following are some things that are uniquely American:

  • College Football
  • BBQ
  • Muscle cars
  • Thanksgiving
  • Boy Scouts
  • Apple Pie
  • Blue Jeans

The next time you hear one of these misguided zealots say that only the United States has commercial bail, let them know that it has taken the rest of the world a while to catch up with us on NFL football and Harley Davison motorcycles as well.

[1] Sometimes, Mom.

Absurd Tragedy illustrates inadequacies of Government-run Pretrial Release Programs

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 GPS tracker was attached to the suspect's fake leg.

The GPS tracker was attached to the suspect’s fake leg.

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.”

This week’s hare-brained alternative to Real Accountability

Just ask the fugitives to pretty please come to court.

The preface: What we do is simple. We secure the pretrial release of accused defendants by entering into a written agreement with the State. This agreement (called a bail bond) guarantees the State that we will have the accused defendant in court each and every time as required in order for their criminal case to be adjudicated. If the defendant fails to appear and becomes a fugitive, we go out and locate, apprehend and surrender him or her back to the jurisdiction of the court. If we fail in this obligation, we pay a substantial cash penalty to the State, usually an amount equal to 1,000% of what we grossed for writing the bond. We are excellent at what we do, since bondsman who fail in their obligations quickly go out of business. In summary:

  • We secure their release from jail and pledge real money to the State to secure their appearance.
  • When a defendant fails to appear we locate, apprehend, and surrender them to jail.
  • In the rare cases where we are unable to arrest and return the fugitive, we pay a substantial cash penalty to the State.

We do this quietly and efficiently and at no cost to the taxpayers. We don’t bill the State for all the days that our defendants are not taking up jail space, nor do we bill taxpayers for routinely arresting and returning our bail skips. We play a vital role in the criminal justice system.

When you remove real accountability from pretrial release decisions, the results are predictable.

For example, in Philadelphia, where the courts routinely utilize government-run bail schemes instead of financially secured pretrial releases, defendants fail to appear in great numbers and no one is held accountable.

In December of 2009 The Inquirer reported that Philadelphia’s court system was in complete disarray. In an outstanding special report titled Justice: Delayed, Dismissed, Denied, they reported that some 47,000 wanted fugitives were on the street:

“The court’s bail system is broken. Defendants skip court with impunity, further traumatizing victims who show up for hearings that never take place.

There are almost 47,000 Philadelphia fugitives on the streets. Philadelphia is tied with Essex County, N.J. – home of Newark – for the nation’s highest fugitive rate. To catch them, the city court system employs just 51 officers – a caseload of more than 900 fugitives per officer.

In a sign of the system’s disarray, court officials had trouble answering when The Inquirer asked how much fugitives owed taxpayers in forfeited bail. At first, they said the debt was $2 million. Then they pegged it at $382 million. Finally, they declared it was a staggering $1 billion.”

The solution to having so many fugitives would seem obvious. Hire additional officers to go locate and arrest these criminals. And stop releasing defendants on unsecured fantasy bail bonds where no one is held accountable for their appearance in court. Instead, Philadelphia officials had a better idea. They simply erased 19,400 warrants from the system. Seriously. From the Inquirer:

“But in a sweeping move to lower Philadelphia’s staggering tally of 47,000 fugitives, top court officials have quietly dropped criminal charges against Sanchez and more than 19,000 other defendants who skipped court.

At the urging of Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and District Attorney Seth Williams, Philadelphia judges closed criminal cases and canceled fugitive bench warrants for thousands of accused drug dealers, drunken drivers, thieves, prostitutes, sex offenders, burglars, and other suspects.

“They were clogging up the system,” said Castille, a former Philadelphia district attorney. “You’re never going to find these people. And if you do, are you going to prosecute them? The answer is no.”

Of course the Inquirer was able to find some of these fugitives.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Reginald Newkirk, who had been facing two drunken-driving charges. Reached at his current home in Watha, N.C., Newkirk was told that the charges had been withdrawn. “I’m glad to hear that.”

In Newkirk’s 1991 arrests, police determined that his blood-alcohol levels were 0.273 and 0.277 – almost three times the legal threshold for intoxication at the time. Asked whether he had been drunk at the time, Newkirk, now 61, replied, “More or less.”

Another fugitive, Alfred Carter, who fled in 1989 before he was sentenced for a strong-arm robbery, is now living in Washington.

His conviction was set aside in an attack in which he admitted he left his victim dazed, weeping, and bleeding on a sidewalk in West Philadelphia.

“That’s good,” said Carter, 60. “I’m glad it’s dropped.”

And what about the nearly $1 billion owed by bail jumpers and their families who signed? Like the warrants, Philadelphia officials just pushed a button and made the problem disappear.

“In a single act, nearly $1 billion in debt owed to Philadelphia by onetime fugitives has disappeared.

Philadelphia’s court system, at the request of the city, wiped off the books longtime debt owed by tens of thousands of criminal defendants who failed to appear for their court dates.”

The order follows extensive reforms that came after The Inquirer published a series of articles in 2010 that shed light on widespread systemic problems in the city courts, including an ineffective bail system that for decades imposed no consequences for skipping court.

Criminal defendants are required to post 10 percent of bail in cash to earn release. Before recent court reforms, many routinely fled – on paper forfeiting the remaining 90 percent owed – but in practice little was done to catch them or collect the debt.”

In summary, Philadelphia has tens of thousands of fugitives because they are released from jail on unsecured bonds with no financial incentive to appear in court and no real accountability. Their solution to this horrendous problem was to purge the warrants and pretend that it never happened. Score one for the criminals; the accused defendants who actually went to court were saps. The same environment created $1 billion in uncollected (and unsecured) bail forfeitures. Philadelphia officials had a similar solution. They pushed a button and made the $1 billion in fantasy bail forfeitures disappear. Score another win for the criminals.

In Florida, where I live and write bail for a living, I have 60-days in which to timely satisfy a bail forfeiture, either by producing the fugitive defendant or by paying the forfeited bail amount. If I fail to do, I am prohibited from writing additional bail. I am literally put out-of-business for failing my obligation to the State. In addition, a civil judgment is entered against me and against the insurance company that backs my bail. If the insurance company fails to pay the judgment timely, they are prohibited from writing any bail. This is called accountability.

You would think that Philadelphia — in the light of the consequences of their experience with unsecured bail with no real accountability — would be open to instituting a pretrial release system with secured, financially accountable bail. You would be wrong.

Which brings us to our whack-job of the week. Cherise Fanno Burdeen. Cherise Fanno Burdeen is the Executive Director of an outfit called “Pretrial Justice Institute”. Ms. Burdeen is a staunch detractor of “money” bail. (Her position on “money” grocery stores and “money” police officers is unknown at this time.)

Cherise Fanno Burdeen, Just say "pretty please!"

Cherise Fanno Burdeen,
Just say “pretty please!”

Cherise Fanno Burdeen has a better idea than secured pretrial releases and real accountability. She thinks we are missing the point if we have the nerve to actually jail criminals who fail to appear for court. Here is what she told the Inquirer:

“The vast majority of people who fail to appear in court are not . . . trying to evade justice. For the most part, these are people who the courts don’t provide robust reminder systems, much like you or I get for haircuts or doctor’s appointments. The courts didn’t provide practices that doctors’ offices and salons learned a long time ago can nearly eradicate failure to appear.”

So if you are a bondsman who can’t celebrate Memorial Day Weekend with your family because you are busy chasing down a wanted fugitive, keep in mind that it’s your own fault. According to this dingbat Cherise Fanno Burdeen, you should have sent your client a friendly reminder and simply asked him respectfully and politely to “pretty please” go to his court date.

Amazingly , according to the Inquirer, Philadelphia now intends to actually use this mild-mannered lame-brained and naïve approach. 

When the number of open felony warrants sky rockets once again, city officials will know exactly what to do.

Envisioning the End of “Money Bail”

A glimpse into a criminal justice system where no one is held accountable for the accused defendant’s appearance in court.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

The money police officer’s many years of experience tells him that something is not right. As he parks his money patrol car and steps out to talk with the young man who has aroused his suspicions, the young man suddenly bolts, sprinting down the sidewalk in complete disregard of the money officer’s shouted orders to stop. The suspect is wearing money designer sneakers but the officer is a regular at his money gym and quickly runs him down. He cuffs the young man. His suspicions are confirmed when he finds a small amount of money drugs in the young man’s pocket. He reads the suspect his rights and places him under arrest. The officer attempts to utilize the new money database system in order to fully confirm the young man’s identification and check for holds, but the money database is — as is usually the case lately —slow and buggy. The officer then un-cuffs the young man and issues him a citation. The money officer also verbally confirms the written citation and advises the young man that he must appear in court for his case.

The young man laughs and laughs when he later describes this encounter to his friends.

The young man misses his court date.

Due to the extremely high number of open bench warrants, the money judge orders the Clerk to instead set another court date and mail the young man another notice to appear.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

It occurs to the defendant once again that he is in really big trouble. In spite of the chilly temperature of the courtroom, beads of sweat appear on his upper lip as he listens to the State read the criminal charges that they are filing against him. Following the proceeding, the money lawyer advises him that the money bailiff doesn’t want them talking in the courtroom hallway. So they cross the street to the money Starbucks. After ordering money coffee, the money lawyer advises the defendant that his fee for representation will be $120,000.00. The defendant flinches at this but the money lawyer reminds him that the government is claiming that he fleeced millions of dollars from the taxpayers.

Without committing to the payment of his fee, the defendant advises the money lawyer that he will call him soon. The money lawyer leaves in his money Lexus.

The defendant sips the last of his money coffee and wonders how far $120,000.00 will go in Costa Rica.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

After being booked into the jail, the defendant meets with a disinterested clerk in a small office. The clerk advises him that he needs to drop urine once a week at a cost to him of $40 per visit.

“But my case isn’t even a drug case,” says the defendant.

The clerk appears annoyed by the question. She appears annoyed by the defendant.

“This is the only way you leave jail, understand?” It’s a question but she isn’t asking him anything. The defendant wonders what happens if he cannot afford to pay $40 each week but is afraid to ask her.

Instead he asks, “How long is this for?”

She says for as long as your case is open, which will be a lot longer if you miss any of the weekly drug tests.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

The money judge orders the defendant to be released from jail on a GPS monitoring bracelet.  This is the best the money judge can do, ever since they eliminated money bail. The defendant is ordered to pay $214 each month for his electronic “monitoring.” He will need a credit card and a land line at his house. He has neither.

“Get them,” says the judge.

Months later the defendant feels the hot tears of shame and embarrassment roll down his face. He can take the teasing from friends but he really likes that girl. With the bracelet strapped to his ankle he has no chance to be with her.  Or of getting past her father. He makes an impulsive decision to cut the strap and utters a vow under his breath that he doesn’t care what happens.

Nothing does happen. The credit card on file for his GPS bracelet is cancelled. Six months later the state noll prosses his case. No one ever asks him for the bracelet.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

The defendant has lived in the city for his entire life. He is charged with a non violent crime. In theory, of course, he is innocent until proven guilty. But he scores out as an unacceptable risk on the test they gave him at the jail. He doesn’t understand the test. Neither do the jailers who administer it. His number is too high. Maybe it is because of his past convictions. He has a history. He may be presumed innocent on this case but his high score gets him pretrial detention. There is no money bail to assure his appearance. His risk assessment score seals his fate. He sits in jail.

∞   ∞   ∞  ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞   ∞

Of course some money judges refuse to play along. They refuse to release accused defendants simply on empty promises to appear. They want someone to be held accountable. Absent the use of effective real secured money bail, they allow the defendant’s family to put up a refundable (mostly) 10% with the balance of the bail bond due as a punishment if the defendant fails to appear as required.

Mom pays $500 to the jail to get her son released. She signs her son’s bond guaranteeing to pay the $5,000.00 bond if her son fails to appear.

When her son fails to appear the judge issues a warrant for his arrest and forfeits his bail in the amount of $5,000.00. But no one ever makes any real effort to collect the forfeited bail amount from Mom.

Years later, intrepid journalists inquire why the Court never collected millions of dollars in forfeited bail. After countless blue ribbon panels and studies and endless discussions, the State concludes that the best course of action regarding the millions in uncollected bail forfeitures is to write it off as uncollectible.

Mom can’t afford it, they reason, and it would be a hardship if the State pushed her to pay her obligation. Besides, it can’t be easy having a son who is a fugitive. Actually, if you check the record, it is even worse than that. The poor woman has four children.

It turns out that they are all fugitives.