Last week at the Fairplex at Pomona, the Pomona Chamber of Commerce held a special luncheon to discuss the impact that Assembly Bill 109 (Governor Brown’s Criminal Justice Realignment Bill) has had on both public safety and the community. This event was open to the public and was the first of its kind, bringing together a wide range of concerned stakeholders including law enforcement, the judiciary, public safety advocates and the commercial bail industry. The luncheon included a panel discussion among several criminal justice experts:
- Kim Raney, Covina Police Chief (President of the California Police Chief’s Association)
- Rodney Jones, Fontana Police Chief
- Honorable Steve Blades, Presiding Judge East Judicial District
- Lynne Brown, Co-Founder, Advocates for Public Safety (APS)
- Dwight Brown, Co-Founder, Advocates for Public Safety (APS)
- Eric Granof, Vice President Corporate Communications, AIA Family of Companies
For purposes of background, AB109 was created in response to a decision affirmed by the US Supreme Court regarding California’s legal requirement to reduce prison overcrowding to 110,000 inmates or face the wholesale early and unsupervised release of approximately 33,000 inmates. In a little over a year, realignment has transferred over 24,500 inmates from the state prison system down to the county jails. In this process, the state has provided counties with billions of dollars in funding to handle this unprecedented shift in prisoner responsibility. This important reduction will help California end current and avoid any future costly litigation as well as an expensive receivership. In the past, all inmates released from state prisons were supervised by the state parole system. Beginning on October 1, 2011, after serving their legally required state prison sentences, inmates with a current offense (unfortunately, this doesn’t take past offenses into consideration) that were identified in a “non-non-non” (non-violent, non-serious, non-sex offense) category were to be supervised by county probation as opposed to state probation. Moving forward all new convicted offenders falling into the “non-non-non” category will serve out their sentences in the county jail as opposed to state prison.
Each panel participant provided the over 80 attendees with interesting and informative information on the impacts of AB109. The general theme across all the panelists was that AB109 was having a significant negative impact on public safety in communities all over the state. At one point in the presentation, Lynne and Dwight Brown of APS showed mug shots and background profiles of several extremely dangerous individuals that had been released through AB109. While these individuals were deemed eligible for release through AB109 because of the non-non-non designation of their current conviction, their “full” backgrounds and profiles told a much different story. In fact, many of those released were anything but non-violent, and most experts would agree pose a significant threat to the communities in which they are released.
One of the most interesting presentations was given by the representative of the commercial bail bond industry, Eric Granof. Mr. Granof talked about the collateral impact that AB109 was having on the pretrial populations within the jails. County jails were designed to house defendants that were awaiting trial or those that had shorter sentences (typically 1 year or less). Under AB109, state prisoners are being transferred to county jails and in the process are taking up valuable space traditionally reserved for pretrial populations. In response to the influx of state prisoners, county jails are finding ways to release more and more pretrial defendants on their own recognizance and through taxpayer funded pretrial services programs than ever before.
The challenge with this type of release, as pointed out by Mr. Granof, is that when people are released on their own promise to come to court with little to no supervision, research has shown that they do not appear for court or do so much less often. Couple that statistic with the defendant’s knowledge that jails are overcrowded and the chances of them being rearrested for not showing up for court are pretty much zero, you have a recipe for more crime and dysfunction. In other words, if you remove accountability from the system, the system fails to operate as it was intended.
It was at this point that Mr. Granof explained the role and effectiveness of the commercial bail bond industry. By financially securing the release of a defendant with a commercial bail bond, the bail industry is in essence guaranteeing the appearance of that person in court. If they don’t show, then the bail agent and in turn the family of the defendant, is responsible for the full amount of the bond. This financial incentive or “skin in the game” concept is what makes the commercial bail industry so effective. When people have something on the line, especially something financial, research shows that they perform. And in the case of commercial bail, that means they show up for court. They show up more often than other forms of release, and while they are out they stay out of trouble in the process.
Mr. Granof also spent some time dispelling several myths surrounding the bail bond industry. First, he explained that what people see on television and in the movies is not an accurate picture of the industry. Second, he dispelled the myth that bail is bad for victims. It is in fact quite the contrary. By getting defendants to appear in court, the commercial bail industry is basically ensuring that the victim of that crime is getting a chance at justice. If that defendant does not show up for court, there is no trial and no justice for the victim. The last myth that Mr. Granof discussed was that of commercial bail being the cause of overcrowding. Many opponents of the bail industry make the claim that 70% of the people in jail are there in pretrial status. They then say that the jails are crowded because this 70% of defendants are languishing away in custody because they can’t afford a bail bond. Mr. Granof explained that the 70% number of pretrial defendants in jail is not accurate when it comes to describing who is actually eligible for bail. Just because someone is designated as being in “pretrial status” it doesn’t mean that they are eligible to be bailed out. In fact, a recent study, quoted by Mr. Granof, broke that 70% down and came out with only 13% of pretrial defendants being eligible for a bail bond….a far cry from the 70% claim. He also referred to the states of Oregon, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin, which are all dealing with jail overcrowding issues. The interesting point of this reference was that none of those four states have commercial bail.
The panel discussion ended with several questions from the audience and a final closing statement from the Executive Director of the Chamber, Frank Garcia. In summary, the general feeling by most attending the event was that the current solution that AB109 is providing is not acceptable when it comes to public safety. A solution is needed at all levels of the system…a solution that takes public safety into account first and foremost, and that ensures the proper amount of supervision and accountability for those that are released (whether that release is post-conviction or pretrial). According to event creator, Gloria Mitchell, a long time Pomona business woman and owner of Gloria Mitchell Bail Bonds, she hopes that this type of forum and conversation is just the first of many, as we all look to find the best way to manage our prison and jail populations in the most efficient and effective way possible while always maintaining the safety of our communities.