California Political Review Published PBT Article
"What is Successful Bail Reform"
In the January 2020 PBT Newsletter there was an article discussing what is successful bial reform.
You can see the original article by CLICKING HERE.
The California Political Review has now published an edited version of this article.
By Ken W. Good – Board of Directors, Professional Bondsmen of Texas, Exclusive to the California Political News and Views, 1/24/20
The Hippocratic Oath calls for physicians to “first do no harm,” a declaration of core principles of the medical profession. This concept can lend itself to other callings, occupations and situations, including the subject of bail reform. While advocates argue that we need changes to our criminal justice system to make things more fair, we should keep this same ideal in mind: we should do good…or at the least, not exacerbate the situation. Unfortunately, many of the changes proposed so far have made the criminal justice system much worse with ever-increasing numbers of outstanding warrants and cases.
Successful bail reform must begin by addressing its proper goals. Bail was created to allow someone to be freed from jail while their criminal case is prosecuted. The person’s release is in exchange for their agreement to appear in court any time required by the trial court. If they do not appear for court, the case cannot move forward.
Bail was not intended to address social ills such as increased drug use, mental illness, inner city crime, failing families, failing schools and high drop-out rates or lost economic opportunity. Any jurisdiction attempting to address these issues through bail reform has a distorted and unrealistic idea of the actual purpose of our bail system.
In our biggest counties, law enforcement arrests large numbers of people annually, meaning there is a constant and heavy flow of individuals moving in and out of our jails. Because of the sheer volume involved, courts have been pressed to establish systems that processes them effectively. The reforms attempted so far have made the system worse and in some cases have caused chaos. The number of pending cases is doubling as processing slows down, while the number of warrants in the queue are increasing sharply along with failures to appear.
For bail reform to work, it must begin with the concept of accountability, which is the cornerstone of our criminal justice system. After a conviction, individuals with substantial histories usually receive more punishment than first-time offenders. That is because the system is designed to mete-out only the amount of punishment necessary for them to comply with the law in the future. Accountability also comes into play in a different manner at the time of arrest, a concept that is often lost on those seeking wholesale bail reform.
A system based upon accountability means there are consequences when a defendant fails to appear for court. Therefore, if an individual receives a personal recognizance (“PR”) bond and fails to appear or faces additional charges, they would not be eligible for a new PR bond. If the defendant fails to appear for court multiple times, they may be detained to prevent them from delaying their criminal case from resolution.
A lack of accountability jeopardizes public safety and the lives of law enforcement. Early last May, Alex Guajardo of Pasadena, Texas was arrested for an alleged DWI (his second DWI charge) and subsequently was granted a PR bond. On the last day of July, Guajardo was arrested again, this time for assault against a family member — his pregnant wife, Caitlynne. The following day, the court granted him another PR bond, while simultaneously issuing a protective order requiring Guajardo to stay away from Caitlynne.
Three days later, he was arrested for capital murder for allegedly killing Caitlynne and their unborn child, stabbing his wife 20 times. Guajardo said he intentionally targeted her belly to ensure that no other man could raise his child.
Guajardo was denied bond for the charge of capital murder. But a week later, separate general order PR bonds were issued for his assault family violence and DWI-2nd offense cases. Amazingly, Guajardo would have been released yet again except for the fact that Caitlynne had died because of his alleged brutal assault.
The murder of Caitlynne and her unborn baby is a prime example of failed bail reform, which is occurring across our nation. When defendants receive multiple PR bonds and continue to commit other crimes and/or fail to appear, it is confirmation that reforms are not working. With no consequences for their actions, accused criminals have no reason to obey the law and will almost certainly offend again.
Bail reform that works should address several key mechanisms. When first arrested, an accused would be subject to a bail schedule that would allow for some to be processed out quickly and effectively. Next, magistrates would see only people asking for a deviation from their scheduled amount. Adequate time would be allocated to review criminal histories and past actions to determine eligibility for a PR bond or if the accused represented a threat to commit further crimes.
If a defendant is granted a PR bond and subsequently fails to appear or faces new charges, they would not be entitled to another PR bond. They could still be released but would be required to post a surety bond or cash.
Defendants continuing to pose a threat to public safety or who fail to appear (further delaying their case), would be detained to respond to his or her criminal charges. These defendants would have effectively forfeited the privilege of release and would have to await resolution of their criminal case or cases.
Additionally, changes to our system regarding bail must also include a means for tracking who is in jail pre-conviction and how long they have been detained. If a person is still in jail more than 72 hours after their bail has been set, logic and fairness demand that they be returned to court to find out why they remain in jail and allow the court to re-magistrate them. Accountability must apply to both the system and those accused of crimes. The days of someone getting arrested and then getting lost in the system for months at a time must end.
For bail reform to be successful, it must be multi-faceted and flexible, so it can be implemented across the country in jurisdictions of all sizes. The issues facing many states arise from the high number of arrestees going through the jails on a weekly basis in the largest counties. Many of the changes proposed for major metropolitan areas recognize the difficulty in addressing how to process large numbers of people. However, the fix cannot be to merely release everyone. This has already proven to be a recipe for disaster.
In our eagerness to effect changes to the bail system in America, let us not forget the reason for its very existence, which is to let people of out of jail while they await trial — and to do it in a responsible manner that protects public safety. Unfortunately, bail reform has become such a buzzword these days that reformers have not addressed what successful reform should actually entail. For all their good intentions, the myriad changes they have advocated and succeeded in getting implemented in some areas of the country have produced dubious results.
As much as some may feel that our criminal justice system is in need of an overhaul, we must not be reckless in plunging ahead with reforms that may result in catastrophe. Changes must be made to make the system better and not allowed to create chaos.
You can see the article at the California Political Review by CLICKING HERE.