Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lower Bail for Nonviolent Suspects Helps County, Hurts Businesses

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Getting out of jail in Spokane County is getting cheaper.

After years of inmate overcrowding and a push by the county to streamline the judicial system, prosecutors, defense lawyers and bond companies are seeing judges impose lower bail amounts on nonviolent crime suspects, making it easier to get out of jail while awaiting trial.

That trend, while helping reduce county spending, has triggered a mild backlash among those who tend to benefit from crowded jails and stiff bail requirements.

“It’s driving us out of the bonding business in this town,” said Rodger Betschart Jr., owner of Ace’s Bail Bonds.

Bail bond companies make their money by charging crime suspects a fee, usually about 10 percent of the total bail amount, in exchange for posting their bail. The higher the bail amount, the higher the fee.

One factor in reducing the jail population could be the expansion of a pretrial release program that analyzes a defendant’s criminal record, history of court appearances and ties to the community and makes a recommendation on whether they should be released. If a defendant has a history of compliance with court orders, for example, or no indications of violent behavior, judges are more likely to impose little or no bail, enabling suspects to return to their lives rather than sit in jail while awaiting trial.

“We’re trying different things instead of just locking them up and holding them with a high bond,” said Superior Court Judge Annette Plese, who monitors bond companies for the court.

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