Posted by: fortlauderdalebailbonds | March 12, 2011

Florida Pretrial Release Legislation Advances for 2011 Session

According to recent statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, violent crime is down nationwide and fewer arrests by law enforcement are being made. A 2009 report by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that local jail populations dropped by 2.3 percent from 2008 to 2009. This is the first decline in the U.S. jail population since the DOJ implemented the annual survey of jails in 1982. Large jails led the trend with Florida counties Miami-Dade and Orange leading the nation in overall decline of jail populations.

Yet across Florida, 28 counties have a government-funded pretrial services program, which uses millions of tax dollars to release defendants from jail who have the ability to pay for their own release. Government-funded pretrial services programs continue to expand nationwide despite the drop in jail populations. According to the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability (OPPAGA), the arm of the Florida Legislature armed with evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of such programs, Florida taxpayers are footing the bill to the tune of over $30 million annually to allow defendants to be released from jail for free.

Florida’s pretrial services programs do not even consider indigency to be a factor in their release decision. In addition, statewide data on the indigency of defendants in pretrial services programs are not available for comparison purposes. Many defendants currently released through Florida’s pretrial services programs have previous criminal histories and have been able to post a surety bail bond in the past, thus such programs are competing with private enterprise.

Florida Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff, who represents parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties, has filed SB 0372 to end the use of taxpayer funds to release defendants who can afford their own bail. A companion bill is being drafted in the House of Representatives. SB 0372 simply states that:

“It is the policy of this state that only defendants who are indigent and who qualify for the services of the public defender are eligible to participate in a pretrial services program.”

SB 0372 will not cause an increase in jail overcrowding as opponents of pretrial release reform state. The bill will only require that those defendants who can afford bail must pay it. The bill does nothing to change the release status of defendants who can afford bail; it only states how they can be released. Those defendants who cannot afford bail can still be eligible for release through a government-funded pretrial services program if they are determined to be indigent by the court. As a result, both indigent and non-indigent defendants will be released without impacting jail populations.

As an added measure of accountability, SB 0372 will also give counties the option of utilizing private sector resources of the bail industry to facilitate the release of indigent defendants from jail without using limited tax dollars. An increase in public safety and assurance of court appearance will be an extra benefit.

The private surety bail industry has been proven by numerous national studies, including the November 2007 U.S. Department of Justice Report titled “Pretrial Release of Felony Defendants in State Courts,” to be the most effective means of pretrial release. According to the DOJ study, “Compared to release on recognizance, defendants on financial release were more likely to make all scheduled court appearances. Defendants released on an unsecured bond or as part of an emergency release were most likely to have a bench warrant issued because they failed to appear.”

Allowing defendants who have been arrested for a crime and who in turn can afford to pay for their own release, to instead rely on a government-funded release system, creates a criminal welfare system that only burdens the taxpayers. By restricting government-funded release to truly indigent defendants, the financial burden on taxpayers will be lessened without increasing jail populations. SB 0372 will do just that.

Florida’s pretrial release legislation is a win-win for the taxpayers and for public safety!


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