Editorial: Bail Bond Boondoggle

Last week, The Tampa Tribune published an editorial concerning renewed efforts by the bail bond industry to lobby for legislation that would curtail local pretrial release programs that some say will save tax dollars and aid law enforcement.

The Tampa Tribune
December 26, 2011

The bail bond industry is at it again and Florida lawmakers should once again reject the ploy.

At issue are the pretrial release programs that allow counties to release defendants without bail if they fulfill certain requirements, which can include undergoing drug treatment, attending mental health classes and taking drug and alcohol tests. Defendants usually pay the costs for the programs.

This approach has been effective in saving tax dollars by reducing the number of jail inmates while ensuring oversight. Most defendants in a pretrial release program must wear ankle monitors.

The bail bond industry is targeting these programs because there is no money to be made off these defendants.

It is pushing a measure that would restrict pretrial release to the indigent.

However, many people who are not indigent cannot afford bond. The change would force them to remain in jail at taxpayers’ expense, while denying them potentially effective rehabilitation.

This is no small matter. Jail costs about $85 dollars a day, while an ankle monitor is less than $10. Moreover, taxpayers pick up the tab for all of an inmate’s medical costs. It has been estimated the change could generate about $60 million in extra costs for local governments.

Pretrial programs have stringent standards that ensure participants comply with the rules. Outcomes can be analyzed.

In contrast, as the Florida Association of Counties points out, bail bondsmen do not have to report on a defendant’s failure to appear or on re-arrest rates.

Lawmakers, who have tried the last couple of years to undermine pretrial release at the bail industry’s behalf, have no business dictating such practices, particularly when the local jurisdictions will be stuck with paying the costs.

It is precisely because counties were seeking to curtail jails’ heavy costs for taxpayers that many have developed innovative pretrial release programs.

Lawmakers do a lot of talking about how local governments should cut costs, but their enthusiasm for efficiency can go out the window when special-interest dollars flow their way.

There is a good reason that law enforcement officials, including the Florida Sheriffs Association, strongly support pretrial release programs. They work. They also save tax dollars

Changing the law would serve only to enrich the bail bond industry at the public’s expense.

Tampa Bay Online
©2012 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC

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