By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
For the past two decades, Mr. Monks has repeatedly advocated the elimination of the Harris County Pretrial Services (not "Release") Agency (PTSA). His principal method of attack has usually been the clumsy manipulation of unsubstantiated information which he proudly refers to as "empirical research." Historically, Mr. Monks' meandering writings to elected county officials have received little attention, often moving straight from their envelopes to the nearest wastebasket. Lately, however, Mr. Monks has increased his own volume, and is more loudly than ever proclaiming the superiority of the commercial bail industry. More than ever, we wonder why.
Mr. Monks proudly touts the "control" bail bondsmen are able to exercise over the defendants they release. In truth, however, bail bondsmen are able to exercise very little control over the behavior of their defendants. Surety bonds, which represent a contractual agreement between the defendant and the bondsman and between the bondsman and the court, require only that the defendant appear for court when scheduled to do so. Bondsmen have no financial interest in a defendant's conduct -- or misconduct -- aside from their appearances in court, and bondsmen have no leverage of their own by which to affect defendant's behavior. In short, defendants charged with a variety of crimes are released without judicial scrutiny simply because they can afford to buy their release, and they are returned to the community virtually without supervision.
By comparison, defendants released on personal bond must be approved for release by a judicial officer who has heard the facts of the case, reviewed the defendant's personal information and criminal history, and assessed the defendant's risk of flight and perceived danger to the community. Virtually all defendants released on a personal bond in Harris County are required to submit to supervision by PTSA, which can include curfew restrictions, drug testing, residence, school and job requirements and home detention and electronic monitoring. Additionally, supervision services include, and are routinely ordered by judges for, referral, assessment and treatment for substance abuse, mental health and other problems.
Supervision provided by PTSA, unlike "control" exercised by bondsmen, is accountable to the courts, and defendants who engage in misconduct are subject to judicial sanctions. Perhaps that is why some judges have begun requiring surety bonded defendants to receive supervision services provided by PTSA.
The real issue behind Mr. Monks' attacks is not one of performance, or control, or even research outcomes. Rather, it is one of economics. Crime is statistically down in Harris County, which means that fewer new defendants are entering the criminal justice system; that is, fewer defendants are in need of bail in any form. As the number of persons needing bail decreases, and the number of bail bondsmen does not, competition for the available dollars of jailed defendants who will buy their release increases.
Mr. Monks views PTSA as a competitor and a threat to his livelihood, and has for that reason waged his campaign to abolish PTSA. He is not concerned about justice; he is concerned about profit.
Dennis Potts/Tom McCarty
Harris County Pretrial Services