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This time last year Laura Sullivan for NPR reported on the US broken Bail Bond System. I celebrated her work and later, upon it’s resurfacing called Sullivan “An American Hero

NPR contacted me recently to let me know Sullivan’s series won an Excellence in Broadcast Journalism Award.

Bravo!

From NPR:

NPR News is being honored with a 2010 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton Award for excellence in broadcast journalism for a three-part investigative series revealing deep and costly flaws in the U.S. justice system’s bail bond process, it was announced today. Reported by NPR Correspondent Laura Sullivan and edited by Senior National Editor Steven Drummond, “Bonding for Profit” exposed deep inequities in the treatment of rich and poor defendants, how the bail industry is vested in maintaining those inequities and the surprising cost to taxpayers. The series aired on the NPR newsmagazines All Things Considered and Morning Edition, and is available online at npr.org: www.npr.org/series/122954677/behind-the-bail-bond-system

After months-long research into the perpetual and expensive overcrowding problem in U.S. prisons, Sullivan discovered that the bond system may be a major factor in keeping jails stuffed. “Bonding for Profit” focused on the dilemma of more than a half million petty, nonviolent offenders stuck in jail for months due to the simple reason of not being able to make bail – which is sometimes as little as $50 – at a $9 billion a year cost to taxpayers. In three reports, Sullivan revealed how stark options often force inmates to take prosecutor deals in exchange for early release, and how the bondsman lobby fights pretrial release programs proven to save millions of dollars.

The “Bonding For Profit” series produced emotional feedback from listeners, and has been cited by The Justice Department, the American Bar Association and lawmakers in Virginia, North Carolina and Florida in initiatives to examine current bail practices. The Awards Jury also praised Sullivan’s writing, saying it “crackles with insight and storytelling based on hard facts.”

The duPont-Columbia Awards will be presented at a ceremony on January 20 at Columbia University in New York. Accepting the awards on behalf of the organization are Laura Sullivan and Steve Drummond. Information about all of the winners announced this year is available at: www.dupont.org

The Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards honoring overall excellence in broadcast journalism were established in 1942 by Jessie Ball duPont in memory of her late husband. Administered since 1968 by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, the awards are considered the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, which the Journalism School also administers.

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“Prison companies had a plan — a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona’s immigration law.”

Remember AZ SB1070? Laura Sullivan shows us the greedy plotting behind it.

In the first of two reports, Sullivan exposes the murky connections between Arizona’s legislators and the private prison companies, and how they manufactured a legal landscape to profit form locking up immigrants.

Basically, there is a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. Insiders call it ALEC. It is “a membership organization of state legislators and powerful corporations and associations, such as the tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association. Another member is the billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America — the largest private prison company in the country.”

In December 2009, ALEC convened in Washington D.C. and in cahoots with Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, wrote a piece of model legislation that four months later was adopted almost unmodified as an Arizona SB1070.

“As soon as Pearce’s bill hit the Arizona statehouse floor in January, there were signs of ALEC’s influence. Thirty-six co-sponsors jumped on, a number almost unheard of in the capitol.  According to records obtained by NPR, two-thirds of them either went to that December meeting or are ALEC members.”

“That same week, the Corrections Corporation of America hired a powerful new lobbyist to work the capitol. […] At the state Capitol, campaign donations started to appear.”

“Thirty of the 36 co-sponsors received donations over the next six months, from prison lobbyists or prison companies — Corrections Corporation of America, Management and Training Corporation and The Geo Group.”

An absolute scandal.

LAURA SULLIVAN

I have celebrated Sullivan’s reporting before.

Her three-parter on the inequalities and injustices of the bail system is heroic:

Part One: Bail Burden Keeps U.S. Jails Stuffed With Inmates
Part Two: Inmates Who Can’t Make Bail Face Stark Options
Part Three: Bondsman Lobby Targets Pretrial Release Programs

NPR

Reporting such as Sullivan’s is, in simple terms, essential. Which brings the illogic and limelight-obsessions of these idiots’ calling for the defunding of NPR into sharp focus.

There are prisons and there are jails. The two differ.

Prisons are where sentenced offenders get sent after trial, and they are run by the state.

Jails are where offenders go before trial, and they are run by the county. All offenders, at least for a short while, will go to jail and get booked. If they can post bail they’re out until court date. If they can’t afford it, they remain until their day in court … which can sometimes be many, many months. (It should be said, some short-term sentences are served in local jails).

Across the street from the county jail in Lubbock, Texas, is a row of one-story offices housing Lubbock's bond companies. There are about a dozen bail bond companies in this city of 250,000. © Katie Hayes for NPR

THE BAIL BOND INDUSTRY

Last week, Laura Sullivan‘s sterling three-part report on the US’ broken bail system ran on NPR. Sullivan writes it LARGE: Money rules; the bond system is simple market capitalism. It favours the rich and punishes the poor.

Research shows that those who post bail serve less time post-trial. This is for many reasons, but mainly because once released, the accused can prove to the court (between arrest and trial) that they can stay straight; hold down a job; and publicly respond to their transgression in a socially-agreeable manner, in other words, attempt whatever is necessary to please the court.

However, there are half-a-million people locked-up in US jails either waiting or unable to pay bail. This is more criminal than any act these half-a-million may have committed. REMEMBER: Bail is not granted to violent or dangerous suspects, and the majority of those jailed are non-violent criminals usually for a small-victimless crimes (minor traffic infraction, petty theft).

Amounts differ to post bail differ, sometimes being as low as $50 (that’s a $10 down-payment to a bondsmen on a $500 bail).

Leslie Chew, in Lubbock County Jail for theft, said his $3,500 bail was "like a million dollars to me." © Laura Sullivan for NPR

The result is that cases such as Leslie Chew’s cost the tax payer over $7,000 for 185 days of incarceration … all because he couldn’t afford the $350 down-payment for bail. His crime? Stealing $120 worth of blankets because he was suffering the cold sleeping in the back of his station wagon.

Chew is typical of many stuck in the system. But the system has alternatives. Offenders could be released on trust (a practice that used to be common) and expected to show up for court OR they could be part of pre-trial release programs using probation officers and tagging technology.

Pre-tirla release programs cost only between $2-$7/day. Compare that to $38-$115/day to house an inmate. Statistics have shown pre-trial release programs effective and offenders show up for court as regularly as those on bail.

In total the broken bail bond system costs US tax-payers $9billion/year!

WHY DOES A BROKEN SYSTEM PERSIST? WHAT ABOUT THE ALTERNATIVES?

NPR describes, ‘Ken Herzog, manager of Trammel’s Lubbock Bail Bond for over 25 years, sees an average of six people a day who need to be bonded out of jail. His bonding company currently has between 2,500 and 3,000 active accounts.’ Because they cannot secure new accounts, the bail bond industry sees pre-trial release programs as direct completion. Bail-bondsmen have organised strong lobbying groups in counties where alternative pre-trial release programs were in use.

As an example, Sullivan points to Broward County, Florida:

Bail bonding became political in Broward [and] sent shock waves through pretrial programs across the country. Here in Broward, bondsmen pushed hard for a new county ordinance that now limits the pretrial program. Now industry experts say powerful bail lobbying groups have begun using Broward as a road map of how to squash similar programs elsewhere, even though public records show the programs have saved taxpayers millions of dollars.

This gutting was all the more catastrophic because the pre-trial release program was so successful. It alleviated jail overcrowding that was deemed by a judge as unconstitutional.

Instead of building a new $70 million jail as they had proposed, county commissioners voted to expand pre-trial release, letting more inmates out on supervised release. Within a year, the jail population plunged, so much so that the sheriff closed an entire wing. It saved taxpayers $20 million a year.

And, according to court records, the defendants were still showing up for court.

“DON’T PISS ON ME AND TELL ME IT’S RAINING”

The Broward ordinance passed and, in so doing, slashed the number of defendants eligible for the pre-trial release program by hundreds.

Who, they wondered, could possibly be against a demonstrably successful program? Follow the money:

In Broward County, 135 bail bondsmen amassed and hired a lobbyist, Rob Book:

“To be perfectly arrogant about it, I’m considered if not the best, [then] one of the best in the state,” says Book. He has been lobbying for bondsmen in Florida for more than a decade.

According to campaign records, Book and the rest of Broward’s bondsmen spread almost $23,000 across the council in the year before the bill was passed. Fifteen bondsmen cut checks worth more than $5,000 to commissioner and now-county Mayor Ken Keechl just five days before the vote.

EDITORIAL: THE UNITED STATES OF CORRUPTION

Sometimes, I am carefully worded. I work with prisoners, correctional officers, DoC administrative staff and activists weekly – I must be diplomatic.

But I have no care for the bail-bond business nor the corrupt bondsmen and bought politicians of Broward County, Florida.

Their system is self-serving. It does nothing to protect NOR serve. It is overly punitive. The bondsmen are hacks and the politicians they bought are contemptible.

I hope that the backhanded decision-making in Broward is not typical, but I fear it is not isolated. Selfish, zealous systems such as those Laura Sullivan exposed are ruled by revenge, fear-emotion and profit.

The bail-bond system of America is on this evidence devoid of progressive policy. And, when a small light of common sense policy rears its head based on solid figures and a reduced bottom-line, still well-heeled and big-footed buffoons can kick it all to shit.

DISPICABLE.

THE FULL ROSTER

Part One: Bail Burden Keeps U.S. Jails Stuffed With Inmates
Part Two: Inmates Who Can’t Make Bail Face Stark Options
Part Three: Bondsman Lobby Targets Pretrial Release Programs

All brought to you by Laura Sullivan

Thanks to Jim Johnson for alerting me on this.

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