Pretrial Release Program Cuts Could Help Few and Harm Many

in Criminal Defense, on

As the General Assembly hands the Racial Justice Act bill over to the governor, the North Carolina House could be debating another bill that would radically change the state’s pretrial release programs. The bill’s sponsors claim the programs are unnecessary; its opponents claim the programs provide vital services not just to people facing criminal charges but to the courts and law enforcement as well.

One supporter puts the argument this way: First, these programs provide the same services that the bail bonds industry provides. By competing directly with small businesses, the government is putting those businesses and those jobs at risk.

Second, but equally important, these programs follow no uniform statewide standards. The programs may be designed to assist indigent detainees, but in truth they make it possible for people who could afford to post their own bond to, for lack of a better expression, get out of jail free. If nothing else changes, the state should at least impose some kind of vetting process to make sure the people who really need the services are the ones getting the services.

Opponents have been outspoken in their opinions of the bill. They have just one argument: Judges and court officials, city and county law enforcement agencies and justice advocates alike say the only beneficiary of the bill will be the private bail bonds industry. The proposed changes would actively harm the populations these programs currently serve.

The state government does not run pretrial release programs; the counties do. However, the programs aren’t available in every county. In all, 32 counties provide these services, among them Wake, Durham, Orange and Chatham counties.

Source: News & Observer, “Bill takes aim at pretrial release programs,” Thomasi McDonald, June 20, 2012