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Bail bond industry, Jeff Brandes spar over sweeping justice reform bill

The Florida Legislature is considering sweeping criminal justice reform measures that have come under fire by the bail bond industry, but the sponsor of one of the bills said Sunday that he is “not in the business of making bail bondsmen money.”

“They are in the business of writing bonds, and their business will go down if more people get diverted to civil citations,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Pinellas County Republican who is sponsoring SB 1392 and SB 1218, the duo of bills at the heart of the fight.

One of the bills (SB 1218) would require the state to invest in a computer program that uses algorithms to determine the risk of each offender for flight risk and their overall danger level. The bail bonds industry opposes it, arguing it is safer to rely on their expertise than on a computer.

The other bill (SB 1392) would require each judicial district in the state to create diversion programs for adults and juveniles, with the intent of giving local law enforcement agencies a tool that can serve between a warning and an arrest for low-level offenders.

But some in the bail bond industry say there will be no “uniformity” in the state and that some programs pushed by jurisdictions, like the one in Pinellas County, are “flawed.”

“There is no uniformity in the program,” said Matthew Jones, the president of A Way Out Bail Bonds II Inc. “You could possible end up with 67 different qualification programs around the state.”

Jones said he is also concerned about public safety and slammed the program in Pinellas County for allowing those arrested for certain battery misdemeanor charges to participate.

According to data provided by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the top five offenses for those who participated in its program included, possession of marijuana, retail theft, battery, petit theft and possession of marijuana paraphernalia.

If the legislation passes, each judicial district would have the flexibility to implement its own rules and criteria for qualifying offenders, as well as their own fees. Brandes’ bill does not set a blanket fee for the program.

In Florida’ 18th Judicial Court, for example, participants are normally supervised between six months to a year and are required to pay between $370 and $720, plus a $50 prosecution fee.

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“Pretrial diversion is a voluntary program,” the website announced in all caps, “therefore, fees are not eligible for reduction or waiver.”

Programs that are currently in place would go not away under the proposal.

To complete a program, participants may have to go through drug treatment, community service, counseling or a combination of all those, at their expense. Those who do not fulfill the program’s requirements could be rearrested.

Advocates say the program has proven to reduce recidivism and in the long run allows adults and juveniles to tumble down employment barriers that would otherwise be there as a result of having a criminal record.

The implementation of these programs statewide would also likely save local governments money since booking and arrest-processing costs are expected to be down, Senate staff wrote in an analysis of the bill. As a result, this could cost the bail bond industry money.

Brandes’ proposal will go before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. It is its last committee stop before it can hit the Senate floor.

The House is also considering a similar diversion program bill, HB 1197 by Pinellas County Republican Rep. Larry Ahern, that is now in its last committee stop.

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Jeff Brandes is a client of Extensive Enterprises Media, the holding company that owns FloridaPolitics.com.

Written By

Ana covers politics and policy Before joining the News Service of Florida she wrote for the Naples Daily News and was the legislative relief reporter for The Associated Press and covered policy issues impacting immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare in Florida. She holds a B.A. in journalism from San Diego State University. After graduating in 2014, she worked as a criminal justice reporter for the Monterey Herald and the Monterey County Weekly. She has also freelanced for The Washington Post at the U.S.-Mexico border covering crime in the border city of Tijuana, where she grew up. Ana is fluent in Spanish and has intermediate proficiency in Portuguese.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

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