Proposition 102: Improving Public Safety or a Bailout for Bail Bondsman?

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) - Supporters and opponents of a statewide ballot measure say public safety and taxpayer dollars could be at stake pending the outcome of the November elections.

Proposition 102 asks voters if they want to place limits on how inmates are able to bond out of jail, specifically through a state-run program called pretrial services.

In the legal process, a judge is allowed to issue what's called an unsecured bond -- meaning a bond amount is set and the defendant is released, but they don't pay a penny of it unless they fail to show up for their next court date. Under current state law, many accused criminals who receive unsecured bonds are released to the supervision of pretrial services as a condition of that bond -- something Proposition 102 would change.

Bob Cunningham has been a bail bondsman in Grand Junction for many years. He says as community member he's concerned with what the bond system in Colorado has become.

"To sum this all up, it's a safety issue," said Cunningham, who owns Mr. C's Bail Bonds.

He says when a bondsman bails an inmate out of jail, he or she has a vested interest in making sure that a person appears in court -- namely, they'll lose a lot of money if that person does not. So when a client does skip out on a hearing, a bondsman will go out and catch them.

"We are the true long arm of the law," said Cunningham.

With more than 21,000 felony warrants currently outstanding in Colorado, he says an overloaded state system just doesn't have the resources to go after fugitives like bondsmen -- so when inmates released to pretrial services don't show up to court, they're essentially free and able to roam the streets.

"Who's going to be responsible for them?" said Cunningham. "What consequences are they going to have to pay when they don't show up for court or they go out there and commit another crime?"

That's why he's supporting Prop 102, which would dramatically limit the number of inmates who could be released to pretrial services.

"Those funds could be better used to pay for good officers on the street or bigger jails," said Cunningham.

Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey admits the system isn't perfect but says the only things Prop 102 makes safer are the pockets of bail bondsmen.

"Proposition 102 really is a self-serving kind of proposition," said Hilkey.

With pretrial services out of the picture, he says inmates who can't post their own bond would have no choice but to go to a bondsman to get out of jail -- a slower process, he says, many inmates would not be able to afford.

"You're going to see the jail population skyrocket around the state," said Hilkey.

According to the state's non-partisan assessment of Prop 102, the state would have to spend an additional $2.8 million on jail services if it passes.

"Private business is attempting to take over a government piece of this pie," said Hilkey. "And the irony is they're going to do it at the expense of taxpayers."

Hilkey also argues that pretrial services are making a difference -- that data shows crime rates are not going up because of it and inmates who go through the program are less likely to be repeat offenders.

To learn more about the arguments for and against Prop 102, click on the link below listed under "Related Links." (the section on Prop 102 begins on page 32.)

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