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.
I 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: email@example.com
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:firstname.lastname@example.org]
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:
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:email@example.com]
Sent: Tuesday, September 01, 2015 2:58 PM
To: A Bail Bondsman
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??
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.