Privatizing Probation and Parole

Studies | Crime

No. 233
Thursday, June 01, 2000
by Morgan O. Reynolds


Turf Wars and Resistance to Privatization

Bureaucracies are famously territorial about potential interlopers who might perform a core function they now monopolize. As Robert J. Bosco, director of the Connecticut Office of Adult Probation, says of the trend toward transferring government functions to the private sector, "The field of community corrections generally resists the trend. It is seen as a threat to our jobs and our security...an intrusion...a false promise to reduce crime effectively and efficiently, while also reducing taxpayer cost."39

While the political battle to privatize probation and parole is in its early stages, we might learn from the similar, ongoing battle between the pretrial release (PTR) agencies and the private bail bond industry. An uncounted number of bench warrants for the rearrest of fugitives clog the justice system.40 Like many public bureaucracies, the National Association of Pretrial Service Agencies (NAPSA) vigorously resists any public accounting for the results of its release recommendations, claiming it would be too expensive to gather the data and that no funding has been provided.41

"Bureaucracies view privatization as a threat to their jobs, and are generally resistant."

Not surprisingly, NAPSA doesn't like competition and states in its "performance standards and goals for pretrial release" that "the use of financial conditions of release should be eliminated."42 NAPSA also insists that "a presumption in favor of pretrial release on a simple promise to appear should apply to all persons arrested and charged with a crime," and agencies should "provide direct services to pretrial releasees" and coordinate services with other agencies "for the benefit of pretrial releasees."43 Charles E. Noble, the retired executive director of the Harris County, Texas, pretrial services agency and a past vice president of NAPSA, calls NAPSA an organization of "zealots" who refuse to entertain any but their own ideology.44

It's unfortunate that NAPSA focuses all its efforts on releasing criminal suspects without bail and not on the innocent who are all too often the victims of crimes perpetuated by those on release. NAPSA has been aided in its efforts to eliminate commercial bail systems by a substantial number of judges, criminal lawyers and legislators.

  • An article by U.S. Judge James G. Carr of the Northern District of Ohio urges all federal courts to eliminate the use of corporate surety bonds, contending that they "fulfill no function and provide no service that cannot otherwise be accomplished within the framework of the [1984] Bail Reform Act."45
  • Another bail critic in 1965 asserted that "the bondsman's few legitimate functions can be filled better by other agencies."
  • A 1976 study concluded that financial bail "does not perform any useful system function."
  • In 1980 the American Bar Association called for abolition of surety bonds.
  • Three states, including Illinois, have eliminated commercial bail bonds and, thus, have removed an option for the accused.46

Yet the bail system has proven itself superior to pretrial release and release on one's own recognizance in ensuring that the accused is properly tried in a court of law. The commercial bail system thus plays a critical role in seeing that justice is done, at no expense to taxpayers.


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