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Serving time without the cell: pretrial alternatives to jail

This month, Palm Beach County’s Criminal Justice Commission amended an agreement with the 15th Judicial Circuit’s Office of the Public Defender to fund jail alternatives for pretrial inmates.


The present system allows inmates awaiting trial the option to post bail.


“If you get arrested and find yourself behind bars, you will then appear before a judge who will determine whether or not you will be allowed to get out of jail until your trial,” according to Bail Bonds 101.


For serious crimes, bail is off the table. But for more minor crimes, the judge decides what level of bail will incentivize the inmate to appear for the trial instead of running away.


If the crime is relatively small, the bail could be set at an amount close to $20,000.  If the inmate is able, he or she pays the amount to the court. After the trial, the court returns the entire amount. If the inmate does not show up to court, the court will keep the money and may issue a warrant for arrest.


The problem with the bail system is simple: most people don’t have that kind of money. Some may never have that much money in their bank accounts.


Kristina Kenson, executive director of Palm Beach County’s Criminal Justice Commission, defined the funded jail alternatives as “community based services.”


“The Social Services Division for the Public Defender’s Office will help identify what services a pretrial inmate might need that would give the judge some assurance for the safety of the public to release the individual pretrial,” Henson said. “This could include housing, treatment, case management, among other things.”


Henson said that officials see this as a possible solution for a flaw in the system.


“The system stakeholders in this county agree that people who pose an acceptable risk should not remain in jail because they cannot afford to bond out,” Henson said.


If the agreement to fund jail alternatives passes, it will decrease, if not remove entirely, a monetary burden on those who don’t have the money to bail out of jail before the judge calls for a trial.


By Benjamin Wainer

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