Counties Wasting Millions When They Could Get Better, Safer Services…For Free

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Pre-trial Programs called “a house of cards built on … misconceptions.”

CARSON, CA — As counties across California are struggling with jail overcrowding and budget overruns as a result of Public Safety Realignment, some are still spending millions of tax dollars on less-than-effective Pre-trial Service programs that release defendants on their “own recognizance” (OR), based simply on a promise that the defendant will return to court to stand trial.

In fact, one criminal justice expert hired by the Supreme Court recently called Pre-trial Programs “a house of cards built on … misconceptions.”

“The fact is, there are a few different ways to release pre-trial defendants, but only one has a proven track record of assuring defendants show up to court, reducing misconduct while awaiting trial, AND saving tax dollars — and that’s surety bail,” said Nina Salarno Ashford, Executive Board Member of Crime Victims United of California. “And I can’t tell you how important it is to victims to have our day in court — without this, there is no justice.”

According to a study by Michael Block, University of Arizona, “a defendant released on OR was about 60% more likely to have failed to appear for a scheduled court appearance as a defendant released on surety bond.”

“At the same time counties are struggling to fund public safety services, some are spending upward of $7 million or more a year to fund government-run pre-trial Services Programs — its irresponsible and dangerous,” said attorney Jerry Watson, past chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and a nationally recognized bail expert.

Bail bonds have proven so successful because they give defendants a financial stake in their release — unlike other alternatives, such as “OR” release or GPS monitoring, which require no accountability or financial consequences for the defendant.

For example, in Fresno County earlier this year a career car thief was released early seven times, and each time he failed to appear in court — because he had no financial incentive to do so. Eight days after his last release, police say he murdered a man. He’s now being held on bail.

“It’s all about accountability and consequences,” said Vera Robles-Dewitt, president of the California Bail Agents Association. “For example, when you test-drive a car at a dealership, you leave collateral before you drive it off the lot — to ensure you bring it back. That’s the purpose of bail. To provide a financial commitment that you, the defendant, will return to court to stand trial. And if you don’t, we as private bail agents, make sure that you do — at our own cost, not at taxpayers’ expense. And it works.

“Bail agents around the state have been suggesting the increased use of bail — versus the other less effective and far more costly alternatives of Pre-trial Services — to California’s Community Corrections. We hope to work closely with local law enforcement, judges, DAs and others to assist in any way we can to help reduce jail overcrowding in a safe and effective manner — while saving millions in taxpayer dollars.”



Kelli Reid