Sunday, January 24, 2010

*Broward County, Florida Bail Bondsmen Thrive on Taxpayer Sacrifice

With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has nearly a quarter of the world’s prisoners. We jail people for writing bad checks, driving with a suspended license and smoking marijuana. In most countries, offenses such as these would garner slap on the wrist, at most. When did we become so jail-happy? At four times our population, China - coming in second to the US in prison population, still only reaches 18% of American's prison rate.

And how much do we spend locking up everyone who steps just a little out of line? According to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) $68,747,203,000 was spent on corrections in 2006. That is twice the Gross Domestic Product of Kenya. The BJS reports: "The average annual operating cost per state inmate in 2001 was $22,650, or $62.05 per day; among facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, it was $22,632 per inmate, or $62.01 per day."

Just a few years ago, Broward Country, Florida jails were so overpopulated, a judge referred to them as unconstitutional. The county was about to spend $70 million on a new jail, but instead decided to expand its pretrial release program. Broward County consequently saved $20 million a year, and an entire wing of their jail was closed.

Under the system, non-violent offenders would be released after arrest and monitored via call-ins or GPS monitoring device. It costs Broward County taxpayers $115 per day, per inmate, non-violent or not. Conversely, the pretrial release program costs the taxpayers about $6 per day per person. According to records, defendants still showed up for court, and they were able to see their families, maintain their lives and keep their jobs. It was a win-win for everyone - except the bail bondsmen.

So what did the bondsmen do? They lobbied. For a year, the bondsmen of Broward spent about $23,000 on the Broward County Council. $5000 alone was given to then-commissioner (and now Mayor) Ken Keechl, just five days before a vote that cut the program dramatically. Taxpayers in Broward are once again spending millions on incarceration. Non-violent offenders are losing their jobs, watching their lives fall apart over petty offenses. But for the bail bondsmen, I'm sure business is picking up again.

The bail bondsmen lobby is now working in states across the country to squash similar pretrial release programs, and they are having successes. I'm left to wonder if they even pretend to be doing this for anyone's well-being. Here is a business that preys on the downtrodden. A Florida county stepped in and did some good for a time, but that time is ending. The bondsmen are willing to sacrifice the good of the community at large so the desperate will open their wallets. To say this is outrageous is an understatement. But it was all done legally, if barely.

An industry is saving itself, but at what cost?


Evil Twin's Wife said...

I don't think people should be incarcerated for having marijuana. The intent to sell might open up a slippery slope, but one joint? C'mon. It's just ridiculous. Only jail those who are violent criminals or serious drug dealers (since drugs like weed, coke, etc. are still illegal, the high rollers should be taken off the streets). But, really, I don't even care if they weren't. If they're selling to minors, then that's an issue, but otherwise, who cares??