Orange County officials are applying for up to $350,000 in state funding for a pilot program that would allow some nonviolent inmates unable to afford bail a chance at release while their case is pending.
The defendants might be placed on electronic monitoring, confined to their homes or even just released for no charge if they qualify, according to Orange County Undersheriff Steve Kea.
Some defendants would have to report to probation officials — much the way they would if they were convicted and placed on probation instead of being sent to jail or prison, he said.
“I think there’s a strong likelihood we will (get the grant), but there’s no guarantee,” Kea said.
“Ventura County has a model that has been in use and they’re claiming over a 90 percent success rate,” he said. “People are showing up for their court appearances, doing as well or better than those out on bail. We’re looking at the different models out there, but Ventura County has a model most of the public safety partners here in Orange County want to pursue.”
Kea moved to reasssure skeptics who worry that a dangerous person could be released under the pilot program.
“We’re not talking about violent people who are likely to end up in prison,” Kea said of those who would qualify.
Officials have been working on the application for months, even before voters approved Proposition 47, which allows for many nonviolent drug felonies to be reduced to misdemeanors, Kea said.
Proposition 47 will likely decrease the pool of candidates who would qualify for the bail program because most of those defendants now facing misdemeanors instead of felonies would be released without having to pay bail anyway, Kea said.
A court hearing would still take place for those defendants deemed to be a good fit for the program, Kea said. But instead of the typical bail hearing in which defense attorneys and prosecutors argue the pros and cons of releasing a defendant, probation officials would do a “threat assessment” to determine how likely an inmate would be to make court appearances and stay out of trouble in the meantime, he said.
The current system has its own issues, Kea said. For instance, a narcotics dealer of higher means can afford to pay bail, but one of his dealers may not, the undersheriff said.
“Now who is more dangerous?” Kea said.
“It’s certainly not a perfect system,” Kea said of the pilot program plan. “But it’s an opportunity to be smart on crime given the fact that this program has a track record throughout the state and country.”
The grant money would be used to pay for computer software programs and perhaps the extra duties of probation officers assigned to the pilot program, Kea said.
— City News Service