Opinion » Guest Columns

Criminals flee the coop at taxpayer expense

by

comment

Many public agencies will lobby hard against transparency — even at the cost of public safety. The National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA) is one such organization.

This association represents pretrial agencies — local government entities that release criminal defendants from jail, at minimal cost to the defendant, but at a large cost to the local taxpayer. NAPSA promotes a government-run, taxpayer-funded version of what private industry does better as commercial bail bondsmen.

Originally set up to deal with indigent defendants, pretrial agencies have expanded their operations to include offenders who are financially capable of securing a private bond. However, unlike commercial bail operations, if a defendant released by a pretrial agency fails to appear in court, a penalty is rarely paid.

The Philadelphia Enquirer reported earlier this year that bail-skipping criminals have cost that city $1 billion of lost revenue over the last 30 years. By contrast, commercial bail bondsmen must forfeit the entire amount of the bond if the suspects they insure don’t appear in court as scheduled. They thus have a much greater incentive to make sure their customers are held accountable and show up to court.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has produced model legislation that calls for pretrial agencies to make public their budgets, staffing, release recommendations and number of defendants released, and to track any crimes committed by released defendants. The public has the right to know if their tax dollars are being used to bail dangerous criminals out of jail and to demand that defendants be properly monitored once released.

Yet, instead of working to improve the performance of its members, NAPSA is focusing its efforts on attacking ALEC and working to defeat transparency legislation.

In Florida and Texas — two states that have passed similar legislation — NAPSA is complaining that these laws have imposed “harsh administrative burdens upon them” such as “reporting standards.” However, NAPSA discredits its own argument by citing that “29 Florida pretrial services programs were already tracking their results.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), pretrial agencies are not very good at supervising criminal defendants. Criminals released by pretrial agencies are significantly more likely to skip out on scheduled court appearances if they are being monitored by a government-run pretrial release agency than by a private bail bond agency.

According to the DOJ statistics, an estimated 30 percent of defendants released by the government are still fugitives after one year, compared to 19 percent released on commercial bail. In addition, three-quarters of pretrial agencies don’t track how many of the offenders they have released end up being rearrested for other offences while awaiting trial.

Luckily, a separate U.S. Department of Justice study answered that question and found that almost 18 percent of those released by pretrial agencies committed crimes while awaiting trial. Even worse, two-thirds of these defendants were arrested a third time after having been released twice and still awaiting trial on their first arrest.

Rather than correcting these inefficiencies, NAPSA efforts are focused on promoting a dangerous taxpayer-funded system and attacking its private industry competition. Just recently NAPSA bragged how it was able to kill reform efforts to require better transparency and accountability in North Carolina and Virginia.

These agencies are responsible for releasing criminals onto our sidewalks. The consequence of poor transparency is not just a waste of our money, but also a danger to our communities.

Courtney O’Brien is the Legislative Assistant for the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development & Public Safety and Elections Task Forces.