In Broward County, Fla., it's generally Judge John Hurley's job to look through arrest reports and make sure he keeps the dangerous people in jail and let the people who are not dangerous out.
To do that, he has basically three choices. He can release defendants on their own recognizance, which he does for small crimes like driving with a suspended license. Or he can grant them bail. Many won't be able to afford the bail Hurley sets, so they will pay a bail bondsman a nonrefundable fee — usually about 10 percent — to do it for them.
And then there's the third option: pretrial release, a county-funded program that gets people out of jail and keeps tabs on them using things like ankle bracelets, phone calls or drug testing. It used to be one of Hurley's favorite options. But these days, he doesn't get to use it very often.
The program can't handle many defendants anymore.
"The bondsmen think pretrial is stealing their business," Hurley says. "But I don't want to get into the mix. I don't want to get into the political aspect of all this."
Just how bail bonding became political in Broward has sent shock waves through pretrial programs across the country. Here in Broward, bondsmen pushed hard for a new county ordinance that now limits the pretrial program.
Now industry experts say powerful bail lobbying groups have begun using Broward as a road map of how to squash similar programs elsewhere, even though public records show the programs have saved taxpayers millions of dollars.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Saturday, January 23, 2010