failed pretrial release programs

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.

A frog is a wonderful bird — except for the flying part

The Miami Dolphins ended another season, absent once again from the playoffs. They have been mired in mediocrity-at-best for a decade. But team owner Steven Ross, following a meaningless victory over the Patriots, has an interesting perspective. He told the assembled locker-room press that other than the actual winning football games part, the Dolphins are doing great.

“From every aspect except on the playing field we’re probably the first class organization in the National Football League”

I never thought about it this way before. If we judge the Dolphins based upon their cheerleaders or trainers, or landscapers, or things other than actually winning football games, then heck, maybe they are champions after all. Someone should let their legions of perpetually heartbroken fans know about this.

This sort of outlook sheds new light on the possibility that publicly funded pretrial release programs really are effective and worthwhile. They do many things well; except for the part about having defendants who are released pretrial actually show up for court.

For instance, these programs employ bunches of additional government workers and we all know what a great thing that is. Some of these pretrial release programs collect hundreds of gallons of urine from compliant (and presumed innocent) accused criminals. Some install electronic bracelets which helps the bracelet manufacturers and the paid electronic “monitors” who can track compliant defendants. (Non-compliant clients simply cut the bracelet off or fail to appear for the first appointment to have it put on.) These programs send out court notices to those accused criminals who are thoughtful enough to provide them with accurate addresses. They answer the phones during office hours except during lunch breaks, work breaks or paid government holidays. They have a lot of file cabinets, computers, coffee breaks, and government employee benefits.

For every aspect except actually being held accountable for the appearance of the defendant, these taxpayer funded pretrial release programs are first class organizations.

In my state of Florida, the statutes read that the terms “bail” and “bond” include any and all forms of pretrial release. So when an accused criminal is released pretrial — as most are and should be — they are released on bail. The only relevant questions are: who pays for that bail and is it truly a secured release or a figment of everyone’s imagination? Will someone actually be held accountable for the defendant’s appearance at trial?

The woman who supervises the Manatee County, Florida’s taxpayer funded “conditional release program” said, “The County does not ever post bond for anyone. That is the purpose of our program.”

For every aspect except the part about knowing what she actually does for a living, she is a winner! She goes on to say, “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.”

For every aspect except truthfulness, that’s a great statement!  Of course bondsman actually are held accountable. By tying up friends and family of the accused and by risking their own money, bail bond agents are indeed accountable for their defendants’ appearance in court. When their defendants fail to appear, the bail agents — on their own dime — locate, apprehend and surrender them back to the jurisdiction of the court. Failing that, they pay a substantial penalty to the government. When defendants are released pretrial on a taxpayer funded bail and subsequently fail to appear, we get another open felony warrant entered into the system.

And probably a government requisition form for some new office plants and urine cups.

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.