Wednesday, January 27, 2010

No Public Subsidy for Virginia Bondsmen

When Newport News Sheriff Gabe Morgan took office in 2006, his jail was bursting at the seams with more than 700 inmates in a facility built for 248.

On Tuesday, Morgan said it held 451 — "What I would call a sustainable level."

He credits the reduction to opening a jail annex next door, a program that allows inmates who owe back child support to earn their release and the Virginia Pretrial Services program.

For Morgan, for taxpayers and for inmates who qualify, the pretrial program is a success. It has released some 400 low-risk men and women in Newport News and Hampton on their own recognizance till their day in court.

Rather than languish behind bars at a cost to taxpayers of $47 a day (versus $8 for pretrial release, officials say), or being forced to come up with hundreds or thousands of dollars in cash for bail, or pay a bail bondsman, individuals who haven't been convicted of a thing can keep their jobs, homes, cars and families.

"These are folks that can be released into the community and have been released into the community and shown to be successful," Morgan says. "So why should the taxpayers underwrite their care when they're capable of caring for themselves and they don't pose a significant risk?"

But that, apparently, is exactly what local bail bondsmen would like to see: taxpayers underwriting the care of inmates, so bondsmen can keep their paying clients.

Last month, reporter Peter Dujardin interviewed local bondsmen who are upset that the pretrial program, plus a growing trend among magistrates to issue lower bonds, is eroding business.

Read more here.

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