Newspeak: We no longer jail criminals, we “warehouse” people.

Obviously we may have some bad blood on display in this video, but the narrative is noteworthy. This public defender is evidently upset that the judge had the nerve to set a whopping $1,000 bail bond to secure the release and guarantee the appearance of his homeless client. The public defender disrespectfully mouths off to the judge that by requiring a bail bond he is causing this poor defendant to be warehoused.

What utter poppycock.

This man is not in jail because he is poor. He is not in jail because he is homeless. He is in jail because there is probable cause to believe that he broke the law. This public defender would have the judge believe that because he is poor, he will have to be “warehoused.” The judge knows better.

Let’s look at the facts. Assume that this poor defendant does not have access to $1,000. So, in order to secure his release from jail he needs to retain the services of a bail bond agent. In Broward County, Florida a licensed bail agent charges $150 to post a $1,000 bond. There are many, many hungry bail bond agents in Broward County, each eager to make a living and serve the public and the courts. Many of these bail agents would happily post this $1,000 bail bond in exchange for $150 and at least one stable, credit worthy, resident of Broward County who is willing to come forward and vouch for this guy and guarantee that he will appear in court. Many bail agents in Broward County, Florida will even allow family members or friends of the defendant to make payments towards the $150 if the bond is good.

What makes the bail bond good? One thing only: the defendant’s appearance in court at the proceeding for which the bond was written. How can a bail agent be confident that a defendant will appear? Usually by requiring that friends and family members of the defendant come forward and vouch for him. Typically, on a thousand dollar bond the bail agent would require only that family members sign to guarantee that they can have their relative appear in court. They don’t pay anything other than the $150, which, again, they can often make in installments. They simply agree to reimburse the bail agent the amount of the bail bond he posted — in this case, $1,000 — if the defendant flees and cannot be located by the bail agent.

So what happens when a defendant is charged with a crime and no one — not a single person in the world — is willing to vouch for him? What happens when his family members no longer trust him and he doesn’t have a single stable friend, employer, co-corker or even a trustworthy acquaintance? Probably, in such tragic cases there is nothing that can reasonably assure his appearance in court other than keeping him in jail. Homelessness, alcoholism and drug addiction are all big problems, often intertwined. But make no mistake, this poor man is not in jail because he is homeless. He is jail because he is charged with committing a crime and no one in his life thinks that he is a good bet to appear in court to face justice on the criminal charges filed against him.

There are alternatives. We could just give homeless people a pass — simply exempt them from being charged with a crime so that they don’t become “warehoused.” Or we could cite them instead of arresting them for a crime — which some cities are now doing more and more. Of course, when he fails to appear for his court case, a warrant is issued for  his arrest.

Advocates of publicly funded pretrial release programs would have us believe that poor, innocent people are languishing in jail — warehoused — simply due to their inability to post bail. Don’t you believe it. A bail bond agent is standing by ready to serve. He or she needs only a family member, friend, co-worker, employer, or trustworthy acquaintance who is willing to assist. That’s how bail works, and why bail works. The friends and family of the defendant and the bail agent have a vested financial interest in the appearance of the accused.

Was Chicago cop actually released on a $1.5 million bond?

It’s been widely reported that the Chicago police officer who is facing a first-degree murder charge for shooting a teen 16 times posted bail and was released on a $1.5 million bond. I am not so sure that this is an accurate thing to say.

What happens if Van Dyke flees?

What happens if Van Dyke flees?

By way of background, Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with the October 20, 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald. The dashcam video that shows the teen being shot is damning evidence. Even Van Dyke’s own defense attorney concedes: “When you see the video alone, it does not seem like a justifiable shooting.” But of course, in America everyone is presumed to be innocent.

At Van Dyke’s bond hearing, which was held earlier this week, Judge Donald Panarese Jr.watched the dashcam video and listened to testimony that Van Dyke is no threat to the public safety and should therefore be given a bond. According to news reports, the Judge set bail in the amount of $1.5 million dollars. A few hours after the bail hearing, friends and family of the accused cop posted the bond and Van Dyke was released from the Cook County jail.

I know what it means when I post a $1.5 million dollar bond to guarantee a defendant’s appearance. I am much less sure what it means when Van Dyke posted his $1.5 million dollar bond. Illinois is one of a very small number of states that do not allow commercial bail bonds. What thousands of licensed and well-regulated bondsman across the United States, including myself, do for a living is not allowed in Chicago. So how do they manage bail in Chicago? As best I can tell, and as was reported, friends, family members and fellow police officers brought $150,000 (10% of the bail amount set by the judge) in cash to the jail. Instead of private bondsmen, the Cook County Sherriff’s Department of Corrections provides their own bonding facility controlled by the Clerk of Cook County to accommodate family members of incarcerated detainees to post bond on site from 9:00AM to 8:30PM.

You can go there in person during their business hours (as Van Dyke’s friends and fellow officers presumably did to post his bail) but evidently you cannot get them to answer their telephone. For the past week I have been calling the Cook County Bonding Facility at (773) 674- 2276. When you dutifully follow the prompts to obtain bonding information they play a recording for 15 or 20 minutes and then hang up on you. It happens every time. (I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I tried this.) So I cannot say with complete certainty how bail works in Chicago because I cannot even get them to answer the phone. But I have a pretty good guess how they do it.

What, exactly, does Van Dyke’s $1.5 million dollar bond mean? What happens if Jason Van Dyke fails to appear for trial (the primary purpose of his bail) and becomes a fugitive? My theory is that in the event of this occurring, the judge will issue a warrant for Van Dyke’s arrest and also forfeit his bond.

When a private bail bondman writes a bail bond for $1.5 million — in Florida, for example — he or she has 60 days in which to locate, apprehend and surrender the fugitive back to jail. (In other states the time-frame may be different but the obligation remains the same.) If they fail in that obligation, they pay the entire forfeited bail amount of $1.5 million to the State. The entire amount (here in Florida at least) being provided as security for the bail is guaranteed by a solvent and well-regulated insurance company. The State is absolutely assured that they will get either the fugitive or the entire cash amount of the forfeited bail bond as a penalty for not getting the fugitive. Period. The bondsman has a strong and very real economic incentive to make sure that the defendant appears.

What of Chicago? In all likelihood, if Van Dyke absconds and his bond is forfeited, his family and fellow officers will likely get a bill for $1.5 million from the Cook County Clerk. Do you think they will pay it? My guess is that Cook County collects forfeited bonds about as effectively as they answer the telephone at their Bonding Facility. When government agencies attempt to run publicly-funded bail programs, historically they usually do virtually nothing to collect on forfeited bail money.

Who will chase Van Dyke if he flees? Is it realistic for anyone to think that his friends, family and fellow police officers will go after him if he becomes a fugitive? These are, after all, probably the same folks that would be suspected of helping him to abscond in the first place. And does anyone really believe that these fellow police officers would be willing and/or able to pay the $1.5 million forfeited bond amount?

For decades the City of Philadelphia ran a similar public bail racket. “Bail judgments just aren’t paid off unless something miraculous happens,” said David D. Wasson, chief deputy court administrator. Philadelphia wrote off over a billion dollars as noncollectable. I would ask Cook County how much they wrote off in forfeited bail if someone would ever answered their telephone.

The press is making a serious mistake when they without thinking repeat that Van Dyke posted a $1.5 million bond. His bond is a mockery of the bail system. What actually occurred is that friends and family of the accused murderer paid $150,000.00 to get Jason Van Dyke out of the Cook County jail. That’s a far cry from a real bondsman actually posting $1.5 million in real money to secure and guarantee his appearance.

 

Electronic GPS tethers may reduce jail populations but the other promises — like public safety, reducing jail costs and guaranteeing appearance for trial — are a figment of everyone’s imagination.

 

Isn’t the idea of this technology appealing? Instead of incarcerating people just make them wear a GPS bracelet and “monitor” them around-the-clock. In Wayne County, Michigan, they claim savings of over $20 million annually through this type of program. It’s such a simple concept: just let folks out of jail and put electronic tethers on them instead. You can tether and release rapists, armed robbers, even murderers. Watch the savings mount. It sounds like a good deal, huh? Except the whole hare-brained scheme tends to be a figment of everyone’s imagination.

Ankle-monitorThere is a very good article about the use of these devices here.

First, let’s look at these so-called “savings”. Twenty-million dollars annually is a bunch of jail-issued baloney sandwiches. Where exactly are these savings coming from? Here is how they come up with these fantasy savings of over $20 million annually. On any given day Wayne County lets about 500 accused criminals stay out of jail and instead freely roam about with GPS tethers. As a starting place, Wayne County takes their total jail budget and divides it by the total number of inmates they house in order to come up with a “cost per day” of incarceration. So, they will then claim that it costs, for example, $125 per day to house an inmate. Therefore, according to this twisted logic, upon releasing 500 criminals from jail they can then claim that they are “saving” $62,500 per day. This is where they get their preposterous figure of over $20 million in annual savings.  There is a problem with this claim, however. When they release 500 accused criminals, do they then lay-off any deputies? Do they reduce pensions? Close a wing of the jail? They claim “savings” of over $20 million, but how much does the Sheriff’s budget get reduced? You better believe that it doesn’t. The sheriff’s budget — you guessed it — goes up. So the savings are an illusion.

By the way, it’s only fair to give private bail agents the benefit of the same ridiculous narrative. In such case, when using the same “logic,” every defendant out on private bail also “saves” the county $125 per day — without the costs to the county associated with running a GPS tracking program.

Second, let’s look at public safety and supervision. It’s a safe bet that an accused armed robber in jail will not endanger the public. When we tether him up and let him go, what then? If you think the bracelet on his ankle will protect the public safety, then you are a special type of gullible. In fact, many of these idiots wearing bracelets are later convicted of new crimes because the tether actually proves that they were present at the scene of the crime. A quick Google search reveals that some of these brain surgeons actually rob banks while being “monitored” with a GPS bracelet.  A dirt-bag criminal named Demetrius Edwards was wearing a tether when he murdered Cedell Leverett. His GPS tether flawlessly confirmed his location at the time and scene of the murder.

“A New Orleans program came under fire last year when two 16-year-olds wearing tethers were charged with murdering a Domino’s Pizza delivery driver in an attempted carjacking. A New Orleans inspector general’s report found significant weaknesses in the program including a failure to detail violations, unclear procedures to deal with violations and alerts that were ignored.”

Speaking of being “monitored,” here is the biggest illusion of them all. As a general rule, these GPS units do an excellent job of providing the exact location and time when the bracelet is cut off.  The criminal gets to decide when he would like to no longer be “monitored.” All he needs to do is cut off the tether. It’s true that in theory an alert will occur and if everyone then does their job correctly (a huge “if” here — many times it is weeks before any action on a tamper violation is taken), law enforcement will spring into action and often times be able to successfully retrieve the cut bracelet.  As for the fugitive? Well, they will likely ask the judge to issue a warrant for the fugitive’s arrest and hope for the best. He will undoubtedly be more difficult to locate than the cut bracelet is.

According to the article, this is how these accused felons are actually being monitored:

“A 2013 audit by the Los Angeles County Probation Department found that one in four tethers strapped to serious criminals in the county was faulty. The report cited dying batteries, false alarms and malfunctions that resulted in a failure to report locations of inmates for extended periods.”

Orange County, Fla., suspended its tether program in 2013 after a man wearing a tether while awaiting trial for a home invasion shot and killed a witness in the case and wounded two other people. A review showed the man cut off his device. The county agreed to pay $100,000 to each of the families of the three shooting victims.”

The article goes on to cite Chief Judge Fred Lauten of Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit: “When electronic monitoring was presented to us, it sounded like a great idea.  It sounded high-tech and it was like, ‘wow, we can sort of track people.’ It really sounded good.”

Obviously, the good judge became disabused of the notion that GPS bracelets could somehow prevent violent crimes. “Somehow, in the public’s perception, electronic monitoring became more than it ever really was,” he said.

So in summary:

  • The GPS tethers do not prevent crime
  • They do not protect the public
  • They do not ensure that defendants actually comply with their release conditions
  • They do not ensure or guarantee a defendant’s appearance in court
  • They do not even save jail costs
  • They do reduce jail populations

These gizmos might have some use: if you can’t find the fugitive, maybe you can locate his pet cat.

It would be cheaper and just as (in)effective to do away completely with the pretense of these programs; Simply let these violent criminals out of jail upon a promise to behave and appear in court  when required.

Or, of course, if you are legitimately concerned with reducing jail costs, protecting the public safety and ensuring appearance in court, you can require that the friends and family of the accused post a secured bail bond.

Then let a bondsman do his or her job, at no cost to the taxpayers.

Update on St. Pete shooting

“It’s a dangerous profession, often misunderstood by the public.”

A local St. Petersburg, Florida news station aired an outstanding follow-up report, featuring an interview with Armando Roche, past president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States (PBUS).

This brief video, which follows last week’s shooting at a McDonald’s drive through,  is well worth watching.

http://wfla.com/2015/11/13/video-of-shooting-at-mcdonalds-drive-thru-in-st-petersburg-called-disturbing/

 

Shooting in St. Petersburg, Florida puts private bail into spotlight

Tragically, during the recent apprehension of a fugitive felon, a woman named Vonceia Welch was shot. First news reports suggest that the shooting was accidental. Welch was a passenger in the same car as a fugitive who was being sought by bail agents. The fugitive, Deveon Stokes, was taken into custody. The driver of the car, Joshua Allonso Malone, was also a wanted fugitive and was arrested by police after the shooting.

News reports state that a team of 3 or 4 bail agents caught up with their fugitive in a car at the drive-up window of a St. Petersburg McDonalds. When the bail agents surrounded and approached the car a gun was discharged and Welch was injured.

The man they were after, Stokes, has a lengthy criminal history dating to 2007. He served 20 months in prison on charges of extortion and grand theft of a motor vehicle. He was released in May 2014, and was arrested a month later, and this time accused of cocaine possession. His most recent arrest was in June. When he failed to appear for a pretrial hearing on his drug case, a new warrant for his arrest was issued and his $21,000 bond was forfeited by the court. Malone, the sedan’s driver, was wanted on unrelated aggravated assault and firearm possession charges from an Oct. 19 incident where police said he shot at three people, one of them a toddler. By any reasonable measuring stick, these two are each bad actors and potentially very dangerous criminals.

None of this, of course, justifies the shooting of the car’s other passenger, Vonceia Welch. No one yet knows for certain what took place when the shooting occurred. The state is looking into the possibility of criminal charges against the bail agent who fired the shoot. There almost certainly will follow civil actions. The facts are not yet known, and an investigation by the police and state attorney is underway.

The absence of any direct knowledge of the situation hasn’t deterred one of commercial bail’s most vociferous critics from weighing in with his special brand of utter nonsense. Timothy Murray, a hypocrite who for decades fronted a publicly-funded DC outfit called “The Pretrial Justice Institute,” felt compelled to weigh in on this tragedy in order to promote his lame-brained agenda. Murray called the shooting “tragically emblematic of how broken the cash bail bond system is.”

Tim Murray, a disingenuous hypocrite

Tim Murray, a disingenuous hypocrite

“It [money bail] was never designed to make the community safe. There is no accountability,” he said, adding that bail money goes “directly into the pockets of businessmen.”

Murray went on to say that the system is supposed to guarantee someone who has made bail shows up to court. But it doesn’t work, he said, otherwise bond agents wouldn’t have anyone to chase. “The very thing that was supposed to assure his appearance — cash on the table — he didn’t do it,” he said.

Even Murray cannot possibly be stupid or obtuse enough to believe what he is saying. Rather, he is being purposefully disingenuous by claiming that if commercial bail worked, bail agents wouldn’t have to “chase” fugitives. Murray disregards that this is precisely why commercial secured bail works — because bail agents have a vested financial interest in making certain that their defendants appear in court.

Regardless of the tragedy that took place, this team of bail agents risked their own lives in order to bring a dangerous fugitive to justice. The reason they apprehended and arrested Deveon Stokes and returned him to the Pinellas County jail is to avoid paying a $21,000 penalty for failing to fulfill their obligation to the state of Florida on the bond.

For decades, Tim Murray has advocated for the “free” pretrial release of accused criminals. The most significant problem with this approach beyond the waste of tax dollars needed in order to staff these ineffective government programs is that when a defendant fails to appear in court, no one is held accountable. It’s a sucker’s bet that Tim Murray and his fellow “free bail” zealots will never be involved in a shooting during the apprehension of a fugitive. This is because they don’t ever attempt to bring back fugitives. If you ask one of these free pretrial advocates “what do you do when they fail to appear in court?” you are most often met with a glassy-eyed, dumbfounded stare. Typically, they will shrug and guess that since a warrant is issued, maybe the police will make an arrest?

Timmy Murray started out his career — the entirety of which seems to have been spent on the public dole — in Miami-Dade County, Florida where he helped set up the nation’s first drug court. For 14 years he headed up the county’s “free” pretrial release program, and affected the wholesale release from jail of thousands of accused felons. As a result, Miami-Dade County currently has literally tens of thousands of open felony warrants and a budget that only allows law enforcement to actively seek out the worst of the worst.  Drug court is considered by many criminals as a complete joke – they know they will be released from jail for free and that there will be little or no consequences for non-compliance. The program allows defendants to get of jail for free and to commit violations over and over and over again with virtually no consequence. No one is held accountable for their non-appearance in court.

Murray also never misses an opportunity (like this shooting) to rant his misguided belief that commercial secured bail keeps poor low level offenders “trapped” in jail while those with money have a way out – even when facing more serious charges. This is complete bunk. Deveon Stokes is not affluent yet he and his family were easily able to obtain the services of a bail agent to secure his release from jail. Bail agents routinely allow their clients to make payments. The family of the accused (as opposed to the taxpayers) pays a small percentage of the bail. However, the bail agent pledges the entire amount ($21,000 in this case) to the state as security. If the bail agent fails to produce the defendant he or she pays a substantial penalty to the state.

In contrast to Murray’s drivel, the reporter also sought out St. Petersburg police Chief Tony Holloway who said that police generally have a “very good working relationship” with bail bondsmen.

The reporter also contacted Armando Roche, past president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States.”The arrest by bail bondsmen of people that fail to go to court occurs every single day across this country,” he said. “Not to the extent of what happened in St. Pete today, but these arrests are effectuated every day.”

Typically, when an accused criminal fails to appear as required in court, a judge issues a warrant for their arrest. If the defendant is on a secured commercial bail, a bail agent goes looking for them, makes an arrest and brings them back to custody. If they are released via one of Tim Murray’s government programs, a warrant is issued and hopefully the defendant will one day run into law enforcement.

Which alternative is a better deal for taxpayers?

“How do they get them back to court?”

“This is an insane way of doing business.”

I don’t know who made this video but it was sent to me by Guy Ruggerio. Guy is the President of the Association of Louisiana Bail Underwriters. Guy also serves with me on the board of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States (PBUS).

I like the video very much. (If anyone knows who put this together, please let me know.) Often we bail agents are accused of speaking or acting from our pocket books. It is true we have a vested financial interest in pretrial release. But we also have a front row seat and a unique perspective that allows us to evaluate different methods of pretrial release. All too often the taxpayers are sold a complete bill-of-goods, which certainly seems the case here.

Does a bad headline reflect an image problem? Or a behavior problem?

The banner on the front page of today’s Miami Herald reads: “Murder trial of bail bondsman forges ahead with no body”. It’s a lurid, well written local crime story involving a missing-body murder case, stolen money, a victim who worked as an escort and a married suspect. There is only one problem with the sensational headline. The accused murderer is not a bail bondsman.  He’s never been a bail bondsman. He evidently once worked as a handyman for bail bond agent.

HeraldThe online version of the Herald has an equally incorrect headline: “Married bail bondsman is on trial for murder of his lover in 2013”

When I was a kid I had a paper route. Imagine this headline: “Newspaper publisher steals case of beer from neighbor’s unlocked garage.”  (Note that I am not admitting anything here — just illustrating a point.)

I asked the reporter and he admitted that the headline is wrong but defended his story — which states only that the suspect once worked for a bail bond agent. The reporter joked, ”I guess the editors didn’t read the paper!”

These factually incorrect headlines make me think. After all, the Herald editors could have easily gone with any of the following alternative but accurate headlines:

“Murder trial of married handyman forges ahead with no body”

“Married handyman is on trial for murder of his lover in 2013”

“Married bail bondsman is on trial for murder of his lover in 2013”

“Murder trial of convicted drug trafficker forges ahead with no body”

“Murder trial of previous murder suspect forges ahead with no body”

Why did they use the factually incorrect bail bondsman description instead? My uncomfortable theory is that to the headline editors, it fits. My guess is they have no difficulty associating sleazy behavior with bail bondsman.  So when they saw a story about murder, theft, drug trafficking and infidelity and then noticed the (ought-to-be irrelevant) fact that the suspect once worked for a bail bondsman, BINGO: sensational headline!

We can bemoan the fact that we are often portrayed unfairly in the media. We can also take action where appropriate in order to set the record straight. (I did write to the reporter to let him know the headlines for his story are untrue.)

But I think we have more than an image problem. I think all-too-often, we have a behavior problem. Florida does not allow convicted felons to become licensed or to work in the bail bond business in any capacity whatsoever. We bail agents should work together to see to it that other states follow suit.

As bondsman, we do a very good job of ensuring that accused criminals appear for their trial. We are good at what we do, and no government program or alternative method of pretrial release performs better. That said, we do a poor job of communicating what we do the stake holders in the criminal justice system.

If we are sometimes unable to tell the difference between ourselves and our clients, whose fault is that? This is not simply a media problem; this is our profession’s problem.

If we want to be treated as professionals, we need to do a better job of dressing, talking and behaving like professionals.  The guy hocking electronic bracelets to the sheriff and county commissioner is wearing a suit and tie. He may be selling a figment of everyone’s imagination, but he looks and sounds impressive while doing it. How are we looking? Isn’t our image problem all-too-often a reflection of our behavior problem?

I welcome your (constructive) thoughts.

Another reporter gets duped by pretrial release progam

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heath’s crackerjack reporting also revealed the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eight six seven five three (Oh!) nine

Remember this?

Remember this?

If you are of a certain age, perhaps you now have an infuriatingly insipid song about Jenny stuck in your head. You are welcome.

The world changes fast. I used to take pride in being able to quickly recall the telephone numbers of bail agents all across the country. It didn’t hurt that they were almost invariably good telephone numbers, ending in 7777 or 9999 or spelling “bail” (2245) or sometimes “bond” (2663).

Today, I have close family members for whom I don’t have the foggiest idea what their telephone number is. Driving in the car, I announce “Call Brian” and the next thing you know I’m chatting with my son.

I have 6,231 contacts in my telephone but if I lose that phone, I’d be hard-pressed to get a hold of my own sister.

I used to carry a “skypage” beeper everywhere I went. If you needed to reach me you would dial a toll-free 800 number and punch in your own telephone number at the prompt. I would call back pretty much instantly, even during an anniversary dinner. This partly accounts for why I don’t celebrate those particular anniversaries anymore. I took pride in always being available. I still do. It’s an occupational hazard, always being easy to reach. Now it’s also by email, text and Facebook.

After all this time one thing remains the same: the only thing worse than the phone ringing all the time is the phone not ringing all the time.

Amazingly (to me, anyhow) there are bail agents today who are difficult to reach. I have encountered agents that have messages that say “the user has not set up a voice mail box for this number.” Or even worse, “the voice mail box is full. Good bye.” Those agents don’t usually last.

Some jails only allow collect calls to a bail agent. I take them. Do you?

At the risk of sounding like the late Andy Rooney here, how long are we going to talk about “hanging up” a telephone?

Give me a call sometime.

They don’t have a clue

You would think that after all this time I would be immune to the special form of indignation that arises in me when it becomes all-too-clear that otherwise intelligent folks have no idea what it is I do for a living.

Magnifying_glass_icon_mgx2.svgI came across an article titled “Awaiting trial, they’re free to a point” that was recently published in the Sarasota Herald Tribune.  The article was written by reporter Dale White. Mr. White sang the praises of two local publicly-funded programs that release defendants and thereby “save” the counties up to $74 a day, which would be the costs of locking them up. The article claims that for as little as $1.81 a day these programs assure that “taxpayers are not getting stuck with the tab of confining someone.”

I took exception to the newspaper article and wrote the following to Mr. White:


Sent via email to: dale.white@heraldtribune.com

Mr. White:

Your article hyping the benefits of Sarasota and Manatee’s publicly funded bail programs is misleading at best. In Florida the terms “bail” and “bond” include any and all forms of pretrial release.

When Eric (who asked you not to use his last name) got arrested for driving drunk he was released on a publicly-funded bond. The taxpayers picked up his entire tab. Your article stated that poor Eric would likely have sat in jail for months, ruining his life and costing taxpayers more than $6,000 for his incarceration. This is poppycock. Almost certainly Eric would have bonded out – at his own expense rather than through these government programs. The bond for a drunk driving charge in Sarasota is typically $500. If Eric and his family and friends were unable or unwilling to post the $500, they could have easily obtained a bond from a Sarasota bail agent for $100. In addition, most bail agents in Sarasota are willing to take payments. Your statement that a bondsman may not even bother posting bond for low bail bonds is untrue. Every bail agent in Sarasota regularly posts bail for $100. So the question is: who pays for the bail for Eric? The accused and his friends and family, or the taxpayers of Sarasota and Bradenton?

No one is languishing in Sarasota or Manatee County jail because they cannot find a bondsman willing to post a $100 bail.

If you are going to claim that these two county programs “save” the taxpayers $880,000 each month in detention costs by releasing defendants from jail, then use the same math for Sarasota and Bradenton’s private bail agents. Applying the same logic and figures, private bail agents save the county millions of dollars, since their clients are released from detention as well — but at no cost whatsoever to the taxpayers.  If the publicly-funded program “saves” the county $74 a day (at a cost of $3.20 a day) then so does the private bondsman (but at no cost).

More importantly, the purpose of bail is not to reduce jail populations.  The purpose of posting bond is to guarantee appearance. Once again, the private bail agent provides a far better value to Sarasota and Bradenton residents. When a defendant in “Supervised Release” or “Pretrial Services” fails to appear nothing happens beyond the issuance of yet another warrant. One more warrant gets entered into the system along with the thousands of other open un-served felony warrants.  None of the government employees employed by these pretrial release programs is held accountable for the defendant’s failure to appear. Nor are they responsible for locating and apprehending the fugitive. In contrast, when a bail agent’s defendant fails to appear, the bail agent locates, apprehends and surrenders the defendant back to the county jail at no cost to the taxpayers. If the bail agent fails in this obligation, he or she pays a substantial penalty to the county.

Which is a better deal for taxpayers? Another ineffective government program whose real purpose is simply to let accused criminals get out of jail for free? Or private bail agents who guarantee the appearance of defendants released pretrial?

Lastly, according to your article, the ten employees of the Manatee program work weekdays only, while in Sarasota their program’s 25 employees work a whopping 325 days a year. A bondsman — whose services are available 24-hours a day, 365 days a year — would call that vacation.


Dale White got back to me:

From: White, Dale [mailto:dale.white@heraldtribune.com] Sent: Friday, August 28, 2015 2:59 PM
To: A Bail Bondsman
Subject: RE: Unequal Justice

Obviously, it was not my intention to hype. Perhaps the bail bond industry should convince the judiciary it should not be using these programs. The judges must see some merit in them.


And I responded:

Dale,

Thanks for getting back to me. Frankly, part of the reason judges see merit in these programs is due to poorly researched articles and a successful campaign being waged by these programs. How many of the defendants released through these programs subsequently fail to appear? Frequently, these programs hide their true number of failures. For example they base their failure rate on total court appearances (If a defendant has ten court appearances and only misses his trial, they pass that off as a 10% failure rate).  Or they “disqualify” clients for breaching and no longer even count them when they fail to appear. The best method for researching this matter is to look at open felony warrants. How many are there in Bradenton and Sarasota? What happens when a person released to this program fails to appear? Does anyone look for the fugitives?

Isn’t it almost certain that Eric (name withheld) would have bonded out? And if so, wouldn’t the taxpayers be better served by having him post a private bond? Are there really poor folks languishing in your two jails due to their inability to post bond? I know that it was never your intention to hype, but I think you were sold a bill of goods.

Maybe in the future when you are covering pretrial release matters, you could touch base with one of your local bondsman. There are really good ones in Sarasota and Bradenton. If you need contact names or telephone numbers of local agents I can provide them to you. Alternatively, I can provide you with information pertaining to bail. Feel free to contact me anytime.


And here is the email that made me crazy:

 From: White, Dale [mailto:dale.white@heraldtribune.com] Sent: Tuesday, September 01, 2015 2:58 PM
To: A Bail Bondsman

Subject: RE: http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20150822/ARTICLE/150829880

I forwarded Mr. Heffernan’s comments to Manatee County Supervised Released (without his name) to see how they might respond. Here is what I received back:

As to the comments below, I have looked up Eric’s case again, just to be sure that I am stating facts. When Eric was originally arrested, he was placed on Supervised Release with electronic monitoring, at his own expense. Therefore, the only expense to the taxpayers, is the Supervised Release program, which you explained the cost in the article. That is fact. Saying that almost certainly he would have bonded out is an opinion. He could have bonded out prior to his hearing and did not. He had a subsequent hearing, in which the electronic monitoring was deleted and he was required to post bond. This bond was through A Heaven Sent Bail, which is a private company.

I do not know the rules of bond companies, though, clients have told me they do not take payments. The County does not ever post bond for anyone. That is the purpose of our program. There most certainly are clients in jail, with a prior history, that are unable to post $100 bond or find a bondsman. That is fact. I’m sure the Public Defender could provide numerous cases of this. No one said that bondsman don’t save the county money. They just don’t have the same responsibilities to the court.

His comments about us issuing a warrant vs. their paying money make no sense. How are we to be held accountable for them attending court? Short of watching clients 24 hours per day, that is not possible. The bondsman don’t do that either. Furthermore, the bondsman don’t ensure they are following the conditions set by the court, such as no contact with the victim or no drugs/alcohol. This puts the safety of the community at risk. The County is responsible for their apprehension, as it is the deputies and officers that arrest them.

Our staff work 7 days per week, just not 24 hours per day. I understand that bondsman serve a purpose too, but they should stick with facts.

Let me know if you need further clarification.


 “How are to be held accountable for them attending court?” Huh??


Me, again:

Mr. White,

Thanks so much for fostering this dialog and your openness to examining this issue.

A few points:

  • Following his arrest, Eric was almost certainly encouraged not to bond out prior to his first court appearance, since he would have been advised that he would get out for “free” through the program.
  • When he discovered his release was not “free” and required an electronic bracelet that he had to pay for, he had his private lawyer (that he paid for) file a motion to get that condition removed and he agreed to pay for a bond through a private bail agent. If he was on bond, why would the taxpayers need to pay for his continued enrollment in the program?
  • Most every bail agency in Bradenton and Sarasota will take payments and this is easy enough to confirm.
  • The county certainly does post bond insofar as Florida Statute 903.011(1) defines the terms “bail” and “bond” to include any and all forms of pretrial release. So, again, the question remains: who should pay for the bond securing release? The friends and family of the accused? Or the taxpayers?
  • It easy enough to confirm that most every agent in Bradenton and Sarasota regularly posts $100.00 bonds. Defendants are not languishing  in jail because they are poor or unable to find a bondsman willing to post a $100 bond. They are in jail because they are a demonstrated flight risk or, more often, they have other holds such as violation of probation, immigration, or prior failures to appear.
  • The primary purpose of any bond (cash, corporate surety, supervised release, etc) is to guarantee the appearance of the defendant. If a bail agent fails in this obligation he or she pays a substantial penalty to the county equal to 1,000% of what they grossed for posting the bond. (For example: If Gary Johnson collects $100 gross for posting the bond and the defendant fails to appear and cannot be located by Gary, Gary pays 10 times what he collected as a penalty.) In contrast the spokesperson for the pretrial release program says “How are we to be held accountable for them attending court?” Question: If they cannot adequately assure appearance in court, how can they claim to enforce the other conditions? A private bail agent is accountable for ensuring that his clients appear in court.
  • If a defendant on bond fails to appear, the bondsman goes out and apprehends them. If a defendant released through the program fails to appear, the county gets another warrant entered into the system.

The article that you wrote leads with the misleading statement that poor Eric might still be sitting in jail with his life ruined if not for this program. Now we learn that Eric did, in fact, pay for electronic monitoring, a private attorney, and a private financially secured bond.

Again, thank you for being open to learning more about what we do for a living.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me anytime.


This, then, is what we are left with from the spokesperson of the Manatee County Supervised release program:

“How are we to be held accountable for them attending court? Short of watching clients 24 hours per day, that is not possible. The bondsman don’t do that either.”

I would write more but I need to go look for a bond skip. Either that or pay a $50,000. penalty to the county within 60 days.

And so it goes.