The benefits of the Pre-trial Services Program outweigh the risks, county and court officials say in the wake of the fatal police shooting of program participant Kenneth Lee Bailey Jr.
The program and electronic monitoring allow people who may not have enough money to pay bail get out of jail as they await trial and assure court officials their whereabouts are known, said Durham County Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey.
“There are always concerns and it is always a risk when someone is put on pre-trial, but I think it is a bigger risk when someone posts a bond and there is no information on their whereabouts or assurance they will be in court,” Morey said.
The service also appears to save the county money. In the 2015-16 fiscal year, the pre-trial service kept 39,140 days people out of jail (at about $110 a day) for a potential savings of nearly $3.9 million, according to a county report.
Police fatally shot Bailey, 24, on Feb. 15. Three police officers were trying to arrest him for violating pretrial-release conditions, when police say he pulled a gun from his waistband and pointed it at the officers.
Bailey was placed on pre-trial release with a curfew and electronic monitoring on Nov. 7 along with a secured bond of $250,000. He was awaiting trial on August 2016 charges of robbery with a dangerous weapon and felony conspiracy. He also faced an indictment for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, police said.
An arrest warrant was issued Feb. 15 after he missed his 7 p.m. curfew the day before. Bailey reported that he was going to the hospital when GPS tracking placed him at a hotel, court records state.
Bailey also missed curfew Feb. 8 and Feb 11, records state.
Not every pre-trial violation results in an arrest warrant, said Gudrun Parmer, director of the Criminal Justice Resource Center. If the violation is significant, it may be taken to a judge to decide the next step.
The pre-trial release program began about 10 years ago, when the jail population was averaging roughly 100 more inmates than the current daily use of 460, Parmer said.
“The county was actually working with a consultant on a jail expansion,” she said, which never happened through a number of coordinated efforts, including pre-trial release.
Pre-trial detention is meant for those that pose a public safety risk and might not return to court, Parmer said. Pre-trial release helps prevent someone from sitting in jail on a low-level charge for months because he or she can’t afford bail.
There are typically about 100 people in the pre-trial release program at one time. As of last week, there were 32 people on electronic monitoring, a turnkey service provided by a private company. Electronic monitoring costs about $10.66 per day.
There are two ways people are released from jail on the program.
Every morning, the Criminal Justice Resource Center reviews the first appearance court docket and defendants’ criminal backgrounds. Then staff interviews eligible individuals, which includes people charged with misdemeanors or low-level felonies, to assess risk factors such as housing and employment.
All of the information then goes to the district judge at the first appearance hearing. The judge makes the final determination about whether that person is eligible for pre-trial, with options to add additional conditions, such as drug screening, curfews and electronic monitoring.
A defense attorney may also ask a judge to grant a pre-trial release as his or her clients goes through the system. That is how Bailey ended up on pre-trial release.
According to a Parmer and a county report, of the 498 people on pre-trial release in the 2015-16 fiscal year,
▪ 94 percent attended all their court hearings.
▪ 93 percent did not obtain a new charge.
▪ 10 percent had some kind of non-compliance.