El Paso County Giving Accused Criminals 90%-100% Bail Discounts, Costing Taxpayers Millions, and Reducing Criminal Accountability
El Paso County is all-in on bail reform, but it’s not what you might think. Is El Paso trying to identify cases where poor or destitute defendants who shouldn’t be in jail but should be placed in some alternative arrangement, such as drug or mental health treatment? Not even close.
Instead, El Paso County is engaging in the criminal charity business by letting hardened criminal defendants, rather than having post bail to be released, simply make a “promise” to forfeit a hefty sum if they fail to show up and go on the run.
Well, guess what, they are not showing up for court and yes, they are going on the run, preventing victims from seeing justice, and stopping the County from trying to get these people the help they need so that they can become productive members of the community.
But it’s worse—last year, this “promise” program cost El Paso County at least $15 million that criminals “promised” to pay after they thumbed their nose up at the law. Let’s not forget the other $1 million or so in unpaid court costs.
Can it get even worse? Sure. The County on October 1, 2018, at the behest of new Criminal Justice Coordinator from Colorado, Joel Bishop, is rapidly expanding this discount bail program known as unsecured bonds. “Unsecured” simply means that the defendant “promises” to pay the bond amount should they fail to appear for court. Based on the uptick on these bonds, we can expect that El Paso County will be owed more like $30-40 million by the end of 2019.
If you don’t believe us, take a look at the 299 pages of records we received from last year. For example, a judge thought Aldo Gonzalez’s crime was so severe that the judge imposed a $350,000 bond for him to get out of jail. But, instead of having to post it, Gonzalez made his “promise” to appear and was offered the option of forfeiting it if he didn’t show up. Well, he didn’t show up, and now he owes the County $350,380.00, which will never be collected. Justice? Not for the victim. Not for the taxpayer. Gonzalez is merely one of hundreds and hundreds of these cases.
Let’s think about this for a moment. First, we ask someone to personally promise to pay if they fail to show up for a criminal case in which they are the named defendant. Then, when they fail to show up, they owe $350,380.00 if they decide to go on the run. Therefore, this system creates a disincentive to show up in court as required. In fact, national research has shown that you might as well have someone sign their name on the back of a cocktail napkin promising to show up because that will be equally as effective as a promise to pay any sum of money.
In addition, the idea that Mr. Gonzalez had to post a $350,000 bond to be released is deceptive to the unknowing public, who believe that defendants actually have to secure their release. In hundreds of these cases, not only did they walk out without having to post something in the first place, most will never be caught and never pay anything anyway. Sounds like a great system, right? So, the next time you read in your local newspaper “released on bail,” think again.
Handing criminal defendants get out of jail free cards is exactly what this is. Get out of jail free now and get out of jail free forever! So why run a scam that makes people believe you are ensuring some sort of accountability, when the exact opposite is true?
Securing a defendants release through a third-party licensed surety bail agent not only guarantees appearance—it guarantees closure for the victims of crime. If the defendant does fail to appear and absconds, the forfeited bond is paid by the surety agent and those funds can be earmarked for other programs that will actually help people, like mental health and drug treatment to stop the revolving cycle of poverty and drugs. Instead, the taxpayers in El Paso County are being socked with the bill. Unsecured bonds and the El Paso “promise” program sends criminal defendants packing, provides no incentive for them to appear in court, and then hands the taxpayer the bill.
Pretrial Services has some explaining to do, as does the Criminal Justice Coordinator in El Paso. Citizens and taxpayers should not have to shoulder the burden of criminal release on such a reckless scale as the El Paso “promise” program, and victims should get the justice they deserve.