Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘bail

Pinellas County, Florida, Reduces Reliance on Bail and Jail

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photo by ilmungo (click photo for flickr original)

A headline in today’s St. Petersburg Times paints a frightening picture of the Pinellas County criminal justice system: “Thousands of Pinellas jail inmates released without a judge ever setting bail.” But the facts in the article paint quite a different picture: a seemingly well-functioning criminal justice system in which people arrested for low-level crimes and not assessed to be a safety or flight risk — the opening anecdote describes a gentleman arrested for cocaine possession — are spared the indignity of checking into jail (complete with strip search) and the hardship of coming up with a sizable (and nonrefundable) chunk of change for a bail bondsman. (I would be curious to hear from any readers with firsthand experience with the Pinellas County system as to which picture is more accurate.)

The article reports that the Pinellas County sheriff’s department makes extensive use of its authority to “R.O.R.” arrestees (or “release on own recognizance,” with an affidavit promising to appear in court), pursuant to a 2007 administrative order by Chief Deputy Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. Of course, criteria such as community ties and severity of past offenses still factor into the decision whether to require bail. The article really buries the lede, because the headline notwithstanding, so far the results of Gualtieri’s policy don’t seem too bad:

The Pinellas Sheriff’s Office saved at least $126 per person, the cost to house an inmate for a day — a total that jail officials think could come close to $1 million by year’s end — and had one fewer occupied bunk in the jail. …

And the failure-to-appear rate in Pinellas, 5 percent, has historically been below the national average of 20 percent, Gualtieri said. Figures were not available on whether the Pinellas percentage has changed of late.

Bernie McCabe, state attorney for Pinellas and Pasco, said he is unaware of a single case in which an accused felon committed additional crimes while on administrative recognizance release.

Considering that jails around the country are overstuffed with indigent defendants who haven’t been charged with particularly serious crimes but simply can’t afford to make bail, other jurisdictions may want to look to Pinellas County as an example. Of course, I’m sure the bail bonds industry wouldn’t be happy about that.

Written by sara

July 5, 2010 at 3:27 pm

A Quick Tour of the Nation’s County Jails

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Around the nation, county jails house defendants awaiting trial who’ve been denied bail or who can’t afford to post bond, as well as convicted offenders serving short sentences (typically less than a year) or awaiting transfer to state prison. Some jails also have contracts with the federal government to house detainees awaiting immigration proceedings or trial in federal court, and in some states with overcrowded prisons, the state pays county jails to house inmates (see also here). Under the name “county jail” you have everything from the massive Los Angeles County jail system which is bigger than some states’ prison systems (seven facilities with 19,000 inmates), to rural county lock-ups with just a few cells. Based on 2008 statistics, there are over 700,000 men and women detained in local jails nationwide at any given time (PDF p. 5). But since people are constantly cycling in and out of jails (and some return multiple times), it’s hard to know how many people in total are jailed each year. (One estimate I’ve seen is nine times the daily jail population, which would yield over 6 million people each year based on the 2008 numbers. Even if that’s wildly too high, the number is clearly somewhere in the low millions.)

Around the country, county jails are overcrowded, antiquated, and underfunded. Here’s a snapshot based just on news reports from the past couple days. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

March 14, 2010 at 11:59 am

“Bail Burden Keeps U.S. Jails Stuffed With Inmates”

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The title of this post headlines today’s NPR’s All Things Considered report on an aspect of America’s criminal justice system that is all too familiar to anyone who’s been charged (or had a friend or family member charged) with a crime, yet is largely unknown to many Americans: the catch-22 world of bail. Citing statistics from the Department of Justice, NPR reports that “two-thirds of the people in the nation’s jails are petty, nonviolent offenders who are there for only one reason: They can’t afford their bail.”

Written by sara

January 21, 2010 at 7:52 pm

Posted in General News

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