Thursday, July 21, 2016

[San Mateo County] Grand jury report calls for bail practices reform: Jury urging alternatives to costly incarceration, including use of technology

More than half of San Mateo County’s unconvicted inmates are stuck in jail because they cannot afford bail, according to a report released Monday.
The tab to house these 600 or so inmates cost county taxpayers a burdensome $45 million a year, according to a San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report titled “Innocent until Proven Guilty.”
The civil grand jury is urging the Board of Supervisors to direct the Probation Department Pretrial Services to evaluate and recommend various alternatives to pretrial incarceration, including but not limited to evidence-based risk-assessment tools and electronic monitoring.
Technology, according to the report, can save money and be far less disruptive for the accused and their families.
“Incarcerating people solely because they cannot afford bail is inconsistent with the fundamental principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty,’” according to the report.
Many counties in California are already using technology as an alternative to bail.
“Pretrial tools such as evidence-based risk-assessment tools and electronic monitoring have been deployed by counties in California and have the potential to reduce jail populations, mitigate community risk, improve court appearance and save taxpayers money,” according to the report.
It costs about $75,000 to house each inmate in jail annually.
An evidence-based pretrial assessment tool is software used to determine the likelihood a defendant will fail to appear for a court appearance or commit a crime while out of jail on bail.
Unlike a simple background check on an individual defendant, the software draws from the actual behavior of hundreds of thousands of pretrial defendants.
In California, about 25 percent of all crimes are committed by individuals on bail. The system allows for dangerous criminals to be set free, according to the civil grand jury report.
Currently in the county, inmates have three options to post bail including posting the full bail amount, posting a property bond or contracting with a bail bond agent that typically charges 10 percent of the bail amount.
Those who cannot afford bail are incarcerated in county jail until the conclusion of their cases or until they find the money to post bail.
Using devices such as electronic monitors, however, cost $26 a day compared to the $206 a day it cost to house an inmate in county jail.
The civil grand jury wants to see a report from the Probation Department by June 30, 2017, evaluating alternatives to bail.
It also wants the county Controller’s Office to provide an annual analysis of the total cost to run the county’s jails including estimates of how cost will vary with changes in the prison population.
The civil grand jury wants to see the first analysis of cost by Sept. 1, 2017.
The Board of Supervisors and Controller’s Office have 90 days to respond to the report.
The recommendations, however, are not mandatory and the board does not have to comply with any of the civil grand jury’s requests.
The civil grand jury is an independent investigative body comprised of 19 county residents to act as a “watchdog for citizens.”
July 12, 2016
The Daily Journal
By Bill Silverfarb

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