Pretrial release

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.

A moment with bail agents Kenneth Holmes and Phil Woods

A few (two) good men equals a few hundred fewer fugitives.

The only way that the advocates of publicly funded “free” pretrial release programs can sell their poppycock to rational policymakers is by using a few whopping bold-faced lies, which they repeat over and over to anyone who will listen. Here are a few of their key lies:

  • Bail agents don’t pay when their bond principals remain fugitives;
  • Bail agents don’t have to arrest fugitives (Because after all there are police and active warrants!);
  • There is no difference in court appearance rates between defendants released pretrial on secured bail and those who are released on unsecured bail where no one is financially responsible for the defendant’s appearance.

Each of these statements are false and easily disproved but it’s hard to make their “bail reform” proposals palatable without the use of such deceits. (If they don’t lie, the pretrial release zealots are left with: “Hey, let’s replace a private business that performs effectively with a government agency that doesn’t!”)

I recently had the opportunity to spend time with Tennessee bail agents Kenneth Holmes and Phil Woods. These two young men served honorably together in the United States Marine Corps. After a tour of duty in Afghanistan, they returned home and settled in Knoxville, Tennessee. There they met a bail agent, who had also served in the US Marine Corps. The bail agent gave Kenneth and Phil an opportunity consisting of a few hundred defendant files.

In six months’ time, newly Tennessee licensed bail agents Kenneth Holmes and Phil Woods accomplished the surrender of approximately two hundred fugitives who had missed their court dates. I am proud to work in a profession with fine young men like these. These two United States Marines returned from duty in Afghanistan and now serve the courts of Tennessee by returning fugitives to justice.

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?

So Congressman Lieu, what exactly caused you to decide that eliminating all money from bail would be a good idea?

Congressman Ted Lieu of California recently participated in a bail reform panel at the UCLA School of Law. We, of course, know Congressman Lieu as the guy who would like to eliminate our livelihoods and put the nation’s 20,000 bail agents out of business. As an aside, guess who wasn’t on the panel? Bail agents, judges or anyone with a working knowledge of how secured bail actually works. The bail “expert” on the panel was from the ACLU.

Regardless, Congressman Lieu was asked if there was a particular reason why he decided to seek the complete elimination of all money in bail with his ill-advised “No Money Bail Act of 2016.” The congressman said,

“So we decided to take all money out of it because D.C. did it and it works pretty darn well.”

Pretty darn well, Congressman Liue? Seriously? That’s not quite how the outgoing Chief of Washington D.C.’s police department described it. After 26 years with the department and almost a decade as its Chief, she described D.C.’s criminal justice system as “beyond broken.” Beyond broken sounds a long way from “pretty darn well.”

The only thing the District of Columbia’s pretrial release (“no money”) program does well is spend massive amounts of the taxpayer’s money. They do that spectacularly well. Washington D.C.’s pretrial release program spends $230 million annually in order to “supervise” roughly 4,000 accused defendants on any given day. Almost 13% of the people released through the program subsequently fail to appear for their court dates and over 27% commit new crimes while out on the “supervised release.”

No jurisdiction other than the Federal government could afford to spend so much with so little to show for it.

Here’s what D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier had to say to reporters at The Washington Post when she threw in the towel:

“The criminal justice system in this city is broken,” Lanier said, citing what she sees as the lack of outrage over repeat offenders as a key reason for her decision to take a job as head of security for the National Football League. “It is beyond broken.”

The chief talked about the arrest of a man last week who she said was on home detention when his GPS tracking device became inoperable. Police allege the man then went on a crime rampage that started in Maryland and ended in the District. They say it included a robbery, a shooting and a car theft that resulted in a crash that left a bystander critically injured.

“That person’s GPS went offline Aug. 12,” Lanier said. “We didn’t know it. The agency that supervises that person didn’t tell anybody or do anything with it. . . . That shouldn’t happen. And it’s happening over and over and over again. Where the hell is the outrage? . . . People are being victimized who shouldn’t be. You can’t police the city if the rest of the justice system is not accountable.”

Outgoing D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier asked, “Where is the outrage?”

There is none coming from Congressman Lieu. He says the no money bail system in Washington D.C. works “pretty darn well.”

Newsflash: “Money Bail fails to solve Climate Change!”

It would laughable if the stakes weren’t so high and the subject matter not so tragic.

According to their website, the Pretrial Justice Institute’s core purpose is “to advance safe, fair, and effective juvenile and adult pretrial justice practices and policies that honor and protect all people.” They are certainly not interested in protecting or honoring the approximately 17,000 hard-working private bail agents who make a living by assuring that accused defendants actually appear in court.

That said, the actual mission of this outfit is advocacy for the elimination of any and all monetary terms of pretrial release. They want to end what they refer to as “money bail.” (You and I call this secured accountable, pretrial release.) PJI attempts to “educate” policy makers and criminal justice stakeholders through the use of flawed studies, false premises, bad data and poorly disguised propaganda. They routinely disregard any academic studies whose conclusions are inconsistent with their core belief that the use of “money bail” to assure a defendant’s appearance in court is inherently wrong.

The Honorable Chief Judge Craig DeArmond In Danville, Illinois recently wrote an excellent essay, “Bail Reform – Is there another side to this argument?

His article is well worth distributing to the judges, politicians and policy makers in your jurisdiction. Chief DeArmond writes:

“Was I the only one who felt like we were being asked …, no, told we had to drink the Kool-Aid of no money bail reform or face eternal damnation?”

“What I found was the people so vehemently advocating this massive change in the bail system have been doing so under different names and different umbrellas for several decades. What they have in common is a progressive agenda being marketed as “evidence based practices”; the current buzzword in social engineering. Frequently funded by progressive philanthropists like George Soros and others, these groups have a much broader agenda than merely bail reform.

Don’t get me wrong… although I don’t personally agree with George Soros and his world view, nor will I ever be mistaken for a progressive, I have no problem with the fact that they are able to express their views. I take issue however, when we are given bad data, outdated studies, and recycled propaganda in the form of “judicial education” and being told essentially, there is no other perspective.

It does not take long when you start researching bail reform to find alternative positions, studies, and evaluations of the same data which produce dramatically different conclusions. It takes even less time to find jurisdictions which tried an increased use of no money bail and eventually returned to an expanded cash bail system due to the dramatic increase in failures to appear and crimes committed while free on bail.”

This judge deserves credit for recognizing that we are being sold a bill of goods. It is also worth noting that Chief Judge Craig DeArmond presides in Illinois — one of the few jurisdictions within the United States that prohibits the use of commercial bail.

So it’s obvious that the charlatans at the “Pretrial Justice Institute” will say or do just about anything in order to advance their agenda.  However, even in this light, the most recent blog post by PJI is disingenuous, shameless and disgusting.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen — the wing-nut CEO of PJI — claims to have actually figured out what causes domestic violence and how we as a nation can solve this horrific problem.

Even though domestic violence has been on a steady decline for decades, it obviously remains a horrible and heart breaking problem. In the United States an average of three women each day are murdered by intimate partners. We suffer the highest rate of domestic violence homicide of any industrialized country. Thousands of people experience domestic abuse every day. They come from all walks of life.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen, No tragedy too great to exploit.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen,
No tragedy too great to exploit.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen and the rest of the hypocrites at PJI have a solution to the complex problem of domestic violence: End money bail. Seriously. Presumably in honor of “Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” Burdeen obtained the names of four women who were each tragically murdered last year. According to this disingenuous dimwit, here is why these four women were murdered: “because of failed money bail systems.”

Unlike Burdeen, I am not going to exploit the names of these victims. The women who were murdered are real people, not props. But it is important to note that these victims were from four different jurisdictions across the United States – some of which do not even utilize secured, private bail or bail agents.

In some of the cases the accused murderers violated their conditions of pretrial release with no consequence. (In other words, the “supervised” release conditions touted by PJI). The actual facts obviously don’t matter to Ms. Burdeen or her comrades. Her concern is only for her narrative: “Money bail did nothing to protect these poor murdered women.”

Let’s be clear. Publicly funded government-run pretrial release programs don’t do anything to protect the public or victims of domestic violence. Note that PJI spotlights Washington DC as the poster-child for bail reform. The PJI website prominently proclaims that the nation’s capital is “DOING THINGS RIGHT” and “The District of Columbia does not use money to detain pretrial defendants.” Leaving aside the insane amount of tax dollars which they spend, this is the same pretrial release program that placed a GPS monitoring bracelet on a murderer’s prosthetic leg. This is the jurisdiction which allows repeat violent offenders, including rapists, to be released over and over again with no consequence.  Washington D.C. is where the Police Chief recently quit her job, saying, “The criminal justice system in this city is broken.” DOING THINGS RIGHT, indeed.

The critical distinction is that private bail agents have never laid claim to guaranteeing a defendant’s behavior – only his or her appearance in court. Burdeen’s insensitive blog piece doesn’t come right out and state the only logical option which could have actually served to prevent the four tragic murders. It is not “no money bail” as she claims. It’s no bail whatsoever.

This is the tragic irony. PJI’s advocacy invariably ends up promoting indefinite pretrial detention. Should all four of the accused defendants have each been held in jail with no bail? In hindsight, we would hope that they had been of course. But should everyone accused of domestic violence be held with no bail? Should the detention of an accused person – the deprivation of their liberty – depend on nine variables plugged into some “risk score” assessment?  PJI claims that their “core values” support pretrial detention only as the result of due process that determined no conditions would reasonably assure appearance and community safety. The same misguided folks who clamor for an end to “money bail” now advance the unintended consequence of the increased use of preventive pretrial detention. Burdeen and her cohorts have unwittingly become the most vocal proponents of “lock ’em up and throw away the key.” How else would Burdeen propose to actually protect the four murdered women whom she uses as an advertisement for her continued government funding?

Our Constitution’s prohibition against excessive bail means that we can’t keep accused defendants locked up in jail simply because they scored out wrong on a bogus “risk assessment” test.

So called “money bail” is an efficient and time honored way to secure the appearance of an accused defendant. A bail bond is a three-party contract between the state, the accused, and the surety, whereby the surety guarantees appearance of the accused. Ms. Burdeen is correct that private secured bail is not a panacea or a replacement for judges, police, and lawmakers. The prosecutors and judges who daily deal with accusations of domestic violence struggle mightily. They don’t get to blame tragic outcomes on flawed algorithms. Here are quotes from a judge and prosecutor in one of the cases which Burdeen gratuitously cites:

 “It’s not like you can just put information into a computer and spit out what the appropriate bail would be; I don’t think that would be realistic,” he said. “There are people that are charged with making that decision … looking at all the facts and all the input they get.”

The judge defended his decision, while also expressing anguish over its outcome. He said he decided to double the suggested bond from $50,000 to $100,000 based upon his experience and available court records, he told the CantonRep. And he said prosecutors did not recommend a bond amount.

“I’m not blaming anyone … but the red flags weren’t there,” he said.

At the same time, however, the judge also appeared to express remorse over the possibility that his ruling gave Dragan a second, and successful, alleged attempt to kill his ex-wife.

“I feel horrible about this situation,” he told the Canton Rep. “I sympathize with the family (and) with the children — it’s a terrible, tragic situation for the community. I feel terrible about it.”

“I think the judge made what he believed to be a good decision with the information that he had at the time and it’s always easy to look back,” the Canton prosecutor Ty Hauritz told the newspaper. “But I don’t … think (the $100,000 bond was) out of the ordinary.”

Private, secured bail works. It serves to assure the appearance of accused defendants who are released pretrial. Cherise Fanno Burdeen doesn’t like “money bail” or what we do for a living. That’s her prerogative. But it’s spectacularly insensitive to suggest that secured bail caused the deaths of the four murder victims whom she exploits in her blog. For her edification, here are a few other “Money Bond Failures”:

  • Money Bonds fails to improve the Miami Dolphin’s offensive woes
  • Money Bonds fails to balance the United States budget deficit
  • Money Bonds fails to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East
  • Money Bonds fails to spend taxpayer funds (like the $1.3 million the Pretrial Justice Institute burns through annually.)

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.

Seven Questions about Bail, the Bail Business, and being a Bondsman

What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding people have about bail?

I think people would be surprised by how grateful the family members and the accused are for the services which we provide. Most bail agents have a desk drawer full of thank you cards and letters. Getting arrested is often a wake-up call that forces the defendant and his family to admit that there is a problem which they can no longer deny. As bail agents we often have a front row seat and even get to play a small part in watching people transform their lives for the better.

We get "Thank You" cards.

We work very closely with family members of the accused and other members of their community circle in order to assure that we can guarantee their appearance in court. This includes working with the parties to establish affordable payments for the bond.

People are also surprised to learn that the bail agent — who owns and operates a small business in the community he or she serves — is almost always personally financially accountable for the defendant’s appearance. There is a common misconception that there is some big insurance company that will pay for failures to appear or that the bail agent can cut some sort of a deal. The reality is that the bail agent personally guarantees the defendant’s appearance in court. If the defendant fails to appear the bail agent locates and apprehends the fugitive. Failing that, the bail agent pays a substantial penalty to the State. That’s why private, secured bail works so well.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing the bail bond business?

Our biggest challenge lies in continuing to educate politicians and policy makers about what we actually do and the vital role we play in the criminal justice system. Private bail enables communities to protect themselves and secure a defendant’s appearance for trial while allowing the accused to avoid pretrial detention. The secured bail which is posted by the independent licensed agents in jurisdictions across the United States is the single most effective and efficient way to achieve those goals. We do this at no cost to the taxpayers.

Many politicians and policy makers are unaware that defendants bailed by a commercial surety are far more likely to appear in court and far less likely, if they fail to appear, to remain at large for extended periods of time. Too often we find ourselves competing against publicly-funded government pretrial release programs that advocate the wholesale release of accused criminals with no real accountability.  Accused criminals have a constitutional right to bail. The question is who should pay for that bail? The friends and family of the accused, or the taxpayers?

What do you think about the efforts of Equal Justice Under the Law and their lawsuits seeking to end “money bail”?

Not much. It’s possible they have good intentions but they are naïve, very entitled and very miss-informed young men who have no real understanding of our criminal justice system or the purpose of bail. They are using these lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits to bully and extort small municipalities. They hold press conferences touting their goal of “ending the American money bail system.” But what they are really seeking is the immediate release of any defendant who simply says that he cannot afford the required bail. They believe that “caging” people is inherently wrong. Well, there is a reason we have jails.

This outfit claims that defendants are jailed because they are poor. The truth is that defendants are jailed because there is probable cause to believe that they committed a crime. The community has a strong vested interest in securing their appearance at trial. These lawsuits seek to force communities to immediately release accused criminals based solely on their unsubstantiated claim that they can’t secure their bond. This is absurd, and dangerous.

What do you think of current efforts to change the role of money in bail? What do you say to critics who contend using money in bail is unfair to poor people?

Money incentivizes people. People work for it and value it. A key reason why secured bail works so well is because people don’t want to lose their own money. The family of the defendant doesn’t want to lose money. The defendant doesn’t want to lose money and the bail agent certainly doesn’t want to lose money. Why do we require “money deposits” when we rent an apartment? By using a private licensed bail agent, friends and family of the accused pay only a small fraction of the bail amount (in most jurisdictions 10%, and strictly regulated by the State). The bail agent then pledges the entire penal amount of the bail bond to the court.

Affluent people don’t always need to use a bail agent to secure their bonds. They post their own assets and the fear of losing those assets (usually money) secures their appearance for trial. They are hardly “buying their way out” of jail. Rather, they secure their appearance by providing the court with tangible collateral security for their bail bond.

Bail agents permit bail for only a fraction of what the court requires and typically offer affordable installment plans to facilitate payment. Bail agents don’t discriminate against the poor. Rather, we routinely enable those of lesser means to secure their pretrial release by working with their family members, friends and social network. Ironically, the same voices that cry for an end to “money bail” frequently advocate GPS monitoring, drug testing and other cumbersome and very expensive measures that have little or nothing to do with securing the appearance of the accused at trial.

Most bail agents agree that there ought to be a mechanism to secure the pretrial release of truly indigent non-violent first time offenders with strong community ties. This was the original incentive for bail reform.  Today, most of the larger taxpayer-funded government pretrial release programs no longer even screen for indigence. The EJUL lawsuits seek the immediate release of accused criminals based upon their own unsubstantiated claim that they cannot secure their bond.

Detractors of private secured and accountable bail claim that the poor languish in jail solely due to their inability to secure bail. Almost always this proves to be untrue. The majority of pretrial jail inmates with low bonds almost invariably have other holds such as immigration and previous warrants for failure to appear or probation violations, etc. It’s an unfortunate myth that bail discriminates against the poor.

What’s the only thing worse than the telephone ringing at all hours of the night and day?

The telephone not ringing at all hours of the night and day.

How would the criminal justice system function without financially secured bail?

Not very well. Look no further than Washington D.C. and Kentucky for answers to that question. Those jurisdictions spend enormous sums of taxpayer money with very little to show for it. The only thing that matters in a pretrial release decision is whether the accused defendant will appear and whether there is an acceptable risk to public safety in releasing the defendant. The larger publicly-funded release programs like those in Kentucky and Washington D.C. fail on both counts. They do a lousy job of ensuring appearance and almost nothing to assure public safety. They claim they “supervise” through the use of drug testing, GPS bracelets and the like but how well can you claim to monitor behavior when you can’t even guarantee appearance?

As an example, Washington D.C.’s pretrial release program recently placed a GPS tracker on an accused murderer’s fake leg to assure his house arrest. The defendant promptly swapped prosthetic limbs and left his house to go murder someone. Right up until the police obtained a search warrant and found the fake leg with the GPS tracker still attached, the pretrial release employees maintained that the defendant whom they were “monitoring” was still confined to his apartment. In Kentucky, accused defendants are regularly released even with a history of many prior failures to appear.

In short, most of these publicly-funded pretrial release programs fail in assuring appearance and do nothing to protect public safety. They are great successes, however, at spending tax dollars.

Their latest panacea is “risk assessment.” They claim that by utilizing often-times secret algorithms that they can accurately predict who will commit future crimes and who will appear in court. These so-called “risk-based decision tools” are a cynical attempt to evade any accountability. People like judges are no longer responsible or accountable for release decisions; it becomes simply a matter of risk data analytics. What you end up with is a system that releases dangerous felons with prior failures to appear because they score out correctly. Non violent defendants with strong community ties remain locked up because of “brave new world” risk assessment scores that predict the likelihood of future crimes.

Any advice for new bail bondsman?

 Bail bonding is real risk assessment. We are in the business of risk and the stakes are high. Listen. Listen carefully. Practice listening. Listen to what they are saying and listen carefully to what they are not saying.

Get political. Be active in your community. If you don’t have a terrific work ethic, consider finding another line of work. Learn everything that you can about everything that you can. Join and participate in your local, state and national bail associations. It’s not the bonds you write that will ensure your success; it’s the bonds you don’t write.  Don’t lie to yourself. Keep your word.

Watch out for identical twins.

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.”

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.

A 6-year-old child is murdered; one of the shooters was wearing a GPS “monitoring” bracelet.

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and 6-year old King Carter was playing with friends outside of the Northwest Miami apartment complex where he lived. His dad had just given him $3 to go buy some candy.

King Carter was in the first-grade at nearby Van E. Blanton Elementary School. He liked playing football and wanted to become a police man when he grew up. He was very loved by his family and friends.

King Carter, RIP

King Carter, RIP

A black car pulled into the parking lot. Two young men jumped out of the car and immediately opened fire, unleashing a hail of bullets. They were looking to kill a man police have only identified so far as “Ju Ju.” The two shooters were trying to kill Ju Ju over — of all things — a beef arising from Facebook postings. Ju Ju returned fire. All three of the gunfight shooters survived, though one of them got nicked in his neck by a bullet. King Carter did not survive. He was murdered by one of the errant shots, right there outside of his apartment, on his way to buy some candy, on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

This kind of horrific tragedy is all-too-common in Miami and other large cities. In Miami-Dade county, more than 45 children or teenagers have lost their lives to gunfire in the last year. Scores more have been wounded.

Following the murder of King Carter, the community and the police responded as they usually do. Marches and candle light vigils were held. Tears were shed and speeches were made. The police implored the public to come forward with tips and vowed to locate and arrest his killers.

Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez said, “It’s another tragic event involving young males and gunfights for really senseless acts.”

Director Perez continued:

 “We are not going to stand idle. It’s all hands on deck … We are tired of this.’’

 “I’m angry, our officers are angry, the community behind me is angry, so hopefully they’re angry enough that they could provide some information that will lead to the arrest of these individuals who are responsible for this heinous act.”

Lastly, Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez issued a warning directly to the killers:

“We are hunting for you. If you’re involved, you may as well turn yourselves in, because I don’t believe that the community is going to stand idle on this. I think that the community is going to stand tall and will hand these individuals off to us.”

“We’re going to get you today, tomorrow, or eventually. When it’s a small child, we don’t give up.”

I’m not sure how difficult it was for the police to actually locate and apprehend the killers. On the Wednesday following his murder, the killers of King Carter were arrested. Miami police took Irwen Pressley and Leonard Adams into custody. They were each charged with second-degree murder for the death of 6-year-old King Carter as well as the attempted first-degree murder of their intended target, “Ju Ju.”  They are both currently being held in jail without bond.

Adams was the one who was nicked in the neck during the gunfight. The treating hospital called the police, as they are required to do whenever they treat a gunshot wound. Adams suffered the neck wound from a bullet fired by Ju Ju and sought treatment immediately following the gunfight.

The second suspect, Pressley, was wearing a GPS monitor on his ankle during the gunfight in which King Carter was murdered. He was still dutifully wearing his “monitor” when police arrested him. The GPS monitor, of course, places him at the scene of the gunfight during the time 6-year-old Carter was murdered.

If the scientific proof that Pressley was at the scene of the gunfight during the time of the murder is not sufficient proof, there is also the hand gun that police recovered. During his arrest, the police found a 9 mm handgun at Pressley’s home. Pressley evidently admitted that he used the gun to target Ju Ju.

Irwen Pressley, a violent felon released on a GPS bracelet.

Irwen Pressley, a violent felon released on a GPS bracelet.

Why was Pressley being “monitored” with a GPS bracelet in the first place? So that he wouldn’t have to be jailed for his prior conviction for strong-arm robbery. Someone decided that it would be cheaper and no-doubt more humane to “monitor” Pressley than to incarcerate him.

Pressley is tragically young himself, but he’s been in trouble with the law since he was 13. He is not a non-violent offender.  His past cases include robbery, armed robbery with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault, armed carjacking and armed robbery with a deadly firearm. He was sentenced to a Miami-Dade Corrections “Boot Camp” last year until they decided to release him with the GPS “monitor” that he was still wearing at the time of King Carter’s murder.

The groups who promote the use of GPS monitors as an alternative to incarceration like to talk about hypothetical non-violent, first-time offenders with strong community ties. The reality is all-too-often a bad actor like Irwen Pressley. It’s no consolation to the mourning friends and family of a murdered child that the shooter was being “monitored” by a GPS bracelet.

There is a growing and dangerous trend in our criminal justice system, epitomized by voices like Alec Karakatsanis, the misguided co-founder of an outfit called “Equal Justice Under Law” and idiots like Tim Schnacke. They rail against the practice of what they call “human caging.” But the sad reality is that we need jails and prisons. There are people who need to be locked up. It is a figment of our imagination to pretend that a GPS ankle monitor constitutes adequate supervision of violent criminals. It is delusional and dangerous to believe that violent criminals will behave if we simply ask them to.

Richard Pryor once said, “Thank god we got penitentiaries!”  Warning: the language on the attached video is probably not suitable for work and will likely offend some folks. But you know what offends me more than the use of profanity? Murdered 6-year-old children.