By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Broward’s exercise in bail reform, intended to end the unjust treatment of the poor and minorities, died quietly Jan. 1. It was 1 ½ years old.
Cause of death: the state’s Republican powers that be – the Legislature, governor and Supreme Court.
The trio combined to enact and impose a uniform statewide bond schedule whose greatest impact is to require defendants arrested for a wide variety of low-level criminal offenses, like urinating in public, to post a cash bond of $150 or more to get out of jail. Previously In Broward, such defendants, often poor, were released before trial on their own recognizance, or ROR’d.
Cash bonds are also required now for third-degree felonies ($2,500) and first- ($500) and second- ($250) degree misdemeanors that don’t involve force or the threat of force. Misdemeanors, like shoplifting, are criminal offenses punishable by less than one year in jail.
“It’s definitely made things tougher and I think it’s going to have probably a significant impact on lower income people who get arrested,” said Broward Chief Judge Jack Tuter.
Miami-Dade Chief Justice Nushin Sayfie folded plans to adopt bond reform similar in scope to what was adopted in Broward. She did so after Gov. Ron DeSantis held a press conference in Miami in late January 2023 and “vowed to block ‘rogue’ judges pursuing bail reform,” according to The Miami Herald.
THE POOR TARGETED
Does the new pre-trial bond schedule target poor people? “Well, of course it does,” said Tuter. “I mean, what else would it do? What would be the other impact of this bond order? Because no jurisdiction was letting people out on serious crimes. They were either seeing the magistrate or there was a convenience bond in place that some people could make and some people couldn’t make.”
“It’s intended to keep people in there. If you don’t have $150, it will keep you in there,” Tuter said.
On May 1, when then-aspiring presidential candidate DeSantis signed the law that petitioned the Supreme Court to establish the new uniform bond schedule, he boasted it was “push back against ‘bail reform’ efforts that have made other states significantly less safe.”
Tuter, who spearheaded bail reform in Broward, thinks that’s nonsense. ““I don’t like the idea of these states who’ve gone to zero cash bonds, just let everybody out. But there has to be some, you know, level of common sense on this thing…How do we feel safer, you or I or anybody else, if somebody’s being held in the jail on $150 bond?
“DeSantis is kind of a let’s-lock-everybody-up governor, and I agree with him when it comes to serious crimes. Our bond order didn’t let anybody out that was a serious offender. Every single offense on our bond order was approved by the sheriff and approved by the state attorney,” Tuter said.
Besides more equal justice, Broward’s reform was aimed at easing pressure on the jail population and saving the county money. When the new bond scheme took effect Jan. 1, the jail population was about 3,150, or 77 percent of the 4,100 available beds.
JAIL POPULATION RISING
Last week, with the new bond scheme in effect for nearly a month, the jail system had risen to about 3,340 inmates, or about 82 percent of bed capacity, Tuter said.
“It fluctuates, but when it gets into the mid 80s that’s problematic,” Tuter said. “It’s the county that’s going to pay for this. Right now it costs $804,000 a day to run that jail. So, it’s an expensive proposition, especially when you take into custody people that might have significant health problems.”
Thus, if the present increase in jail population continues with the new bail setup, it would cost Broward taxpayers more than $16.7 million extra per year.
And more inmates could increase inside tensions in an already troubled jail system. On Monday, citing an “alarming” death rate there, the NAACP asked the Justice Department to investigate the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s management of the county’s four jails, “especially its psychiatric treatment practices.” The civil rights group said 21 inmates died there since 2021.
The new bond schedule arose out of HB 1627, a broad anti-crime bill which DeSantis hailed as “protecting Floridians from the disastrous ‘bail reforms’ being pushed by liberal politicians and prosecutors in high-crime jurisdictions across the country.”
It required the Florida Supreme Court to develop a uniform bond schedule for the state by the end of 2023. In turn, the court set up a workgroup appointed by Chief Justice Carlos Muniz “to create a schedule that works for very circuit.” Muniz “will collaborate with fellow chief judges from across Florida” to come up with a plan.
Those seven chief judges included Sayfie, who had just folded under public heat from the governor, and, as chairman, Second Circuit Chief Judge Francis Allman of Leon County.
Not chosen to serve on the workgroup: Broward’s Jack Tuter, the only chief judge in Florida who’d instituted bond reform.
“We weren’t asked to be involved in any way,” Tuter said.
But how long the statewide bond schedule will remain in effect is anybody’s guess. On Jan. 10, the first lawsuit seeking to overturn it on constitutional grounds was filed in Miami’s Third District Court of Appeal.