HICKS COLUMN: Monitoring folks on bail for profit is not paying off
It would probably make you mad to hear that a murder suspect, out on bail, was roaming around Charleston at all hours of the night.
Well, it makes Scarlett Wilson furious.
The 9th Circuit solicitor, who has been pushing for bond reform since she took office, apparently has a friend in Circuit Judge Stephanie McDonald. Last week, McDonald threatened to impose penalties or press criminal charges against bondsmen or monitoring companies that don't keep an eye on these folks.
Wilson says this problem is a judicial system nightmare. And not just because many of these knuckleheads go out and get arrested for some other crime, gumming up the already-slow court system.
“It's giving the community a false sense of security,” Wilson says, “and it's not fair to the victims.”
It's a good thing Wilson is pushing this issue, because free enterprise won't.
You see, there's money to be made at the expense of our safety.
Flaw in the system
Here's what happens: Some guy is arrested on a charge — drugs, rape, even murder — and faces a bond hearing.
When a judge sets bail, if she does, she often requires that person to stay on house arrest or wear a monitoring device. Well, it's up to the bonding agent or a monitoring company to keep tabs on the person with an electronic device.
For that service, they are paid.
So guess what happens if the person they are watching violates the terms of his bond? Yep, he goes to jail — and the people monitoring him don't make any more money.
Wilson says she once heard testimony that went something like this: A monitoring company said that it had informed a bondsman that his client was hanging out in unsavory areas late at night — a clear violation of his bail.
The bondsman said, well, the guy has to go out and sell drugs so he can pay for the monitoring service. So he didn't turn the guy in.
Something is very wrong with this picture.
Let the pros do it
Wilson says the answer here may be to have local law enforcement monitor these people's whereabouts.
Before anyone starts griping about increasing government and extra cost, keep in mind: the program is paid for by the people being monitored.
If they want to be out, they pay whoever is monitoring them. Under the solution Wilson suggests, the money would go to the state or county instead of some business.
There goes the profit motive.
Fact is, even if it did cost a little more, it would be far cheaper than housing these people in a county jail. The average cost of keeping an inmate is $36 per day; it costs $10 or less to monitor them electronically.
Wilson is talking to local politicians and law enforcement about how to change the system, to make it more like federal court — where the government monitors suspects out on bail.
Whether it takes legislation or a Supreme Court decision to change this, Wilson says she won't give up.
This is about public safety. And that's her job.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com