Smart justice demands bail bond reforms in Jacksonville

Jacksonville FL, November 14, 2018 – The bail reform movement is gaining momentum around the country, with many states and individual jurisdictions turning to non-monetary forms of release in an effort to reduce jail populations and costs. In addition, there is a growing recognition that the money bail system has a disparate impact on minorities and the poor but does little, if anything, to serve the interests of justice. 

Monetary bail is a pay-to-play system in which those with financial means attain pretrial freedom, while the poor sit in jail until their cases are resolved (or plead guilty at the first opportunity because it’s the only guarantee of release). 

Nationwide, more than 60 percent of jail inmates are being held pending trial. Meanwhile, the evidence is replete with examples that those who await trial in jail suffer worse outcomes than their released counterparts. 

Research shows that those who remain in jail until their cases are resolved tend to be convicted more often than those who are released pretrial, even when controlling for other factors. In addition, pretrial detainees are more likely than those released to plead guilty and to receive a sentence of incarceration. And they tend to get longer sentences. Ironically, many inmates who await trial in jail are not sentenced to additional time, while others are never convicted (either because their charges are dropped or because they are found not guilty).  

In Florida, those entitled to pretrial release under the law are afforded a legal presumption of release on non-monetary conditions. Courts are supposed to consider four non-monetary options before turning to money bail: ROR (i.e., release on recognizance, or a promise to appear); an unsecured appearance bond (i.e., ROR plus a promise to pay upon failure to appear); restrictions on travel or place of residence; or placement into the custody of a person or organization agreeing to supervise the person released. Duval County judges have the option of using JSO’s pretrial services program to supervise people released pending trial. Nevertheless, the vast majority of those arrested for misdemeanors in Duval County are given monetary bail. 

I recently completed the Master’s in Public Policy program at JU. For my capstone project, I examined the data provided by the Duval County Clerk of Court for all misdemeanor cases in calendar year 2016. Only 13.21 percent of those arrested for misdemeanors were ROR’d, while 78.68 percent were assigned monetary bail. (The remainder were detained without the right to pretrial release.) The most frequently assigned bail amount was between $2,500 and $4,999. Of those assigned monetary bail, 40 percent were unable to post it. 

JSO data revealed that on any given day in 2016, an estimated 232 jail inmates were being held pretrial on misdemeanor charges. My analysis showed that the overall failure to appear rate for those who posted monetary bail was 8.02 percent, while it was only 2.39 percent for those who were ROR’d. 

Smart justice demands that we do better in Jacksonville—both for those arrested and for taxpayers. I recommend several steps for misdemeanor cases, starting with a regular, periodic analysis of the data by the court system. In addition, judges should utilize the ROR option, with and without the pretrial services program, more often in lieu of monetary bail. Finally, a pilot program of automated reminder calls/texts to notify those released of their court dates should be implemented. Other jurisdictions have seen stunning reductions in the failure to appear rate with this simple, cost-effective technology. 

Interested parties can click here to request a copy of my paper.

Editor’s Note:

The U.S. and the Philippines are the only two countries that allow for-profit bail bonding. As middle men between courts and people seeking pretrial release on money bail, commercial bail bondsmen are insurance agents who make bonding decisions on 1.) whether they will make a profit on the transaction, and 2.) their relative financial risk. There is a national movement to change this system. 

Being held for even a few days in jail can lead to someone losing their job, losing child custody, or eviction. In some cases, people are held in jail for days, weeks, and even months while they await trial. Sadly, it is usually more impoverished communities that are hit the hardest by the money bail system.

In 2017, 70% of the 630,000 Americans in local jails have yet to be convicted, according to the Prison Policy Initiative

More information may be found here:

https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2018.html

https://www.aclufl.org/en/news/why-we-need-bail-reform-florida

https://www.courtinnovation.org/areas-of-focus/bail-reform

http://www.governing.com/topics/public-justice-safety/gov-bail-reform-texas-new-jersey.html

 

Ruth Ann Hepler

Ruth Ann Hepler

Ruth Ann Hepler is a Jacksonville criminal defense attorney. She started her career at the Public Defender’s Office, where she developed a passion for criminal justice issues. She received a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri in 1998 and a JD from the University of Florida in 1991. Earlier this year, she graduated from Jacksonville University with a Master’s in Public Policy.

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