Making bail in Knox CountyMaine Pretrial Services helps save jail costs, reduce overcrowding
Rockland — It seems like it should be simple — if you are accused of committing a crime you are arrested and taken to jail where you either make bail or await trial.
But what happens when the jail is already full, and the person unable to make bail is putting pressure on an already overburdened system? In addition, does it matter that the person in question has not yet been convicted of a crime and is presumed innocent?
Maine Pretrial Services helps those individuals make bail and offers supervision during their time awaiting trial, according to Richard Robbins of Maine Pretrial Services.
Robbins and two case managers work out of an office in the Breakwater Marketplace on Camden Street, meeting with individuals who need pretrial services on a weekly basis, performing drug tests and screening others to see if they could do well with supervised bail.
"The idea is that the jail is an extremely valuable resource and needs to be used judiciously," said Robbins.
He said the people in jail should be those who have been convicted and are serving a sentence, or individuals who pose an unacceptable risk of flight (failing to show up for trial) or to public safety.
"Otherwise, they should have access to bail," Robbins said.
"Without them [Maine Pretrial Services], we would be hunting for beds in other jails," said Lt. Cynthia Gardner of Knox County Jail.
She said Maine Pretrial helps make a difference in a jail that has seen a steady increase in population during the past 25 years. It is limited to 77 inmates and more than that have to be sent to another jail that has a free bed. There are times when they are all full statewide, she said.
She said it costs $89 a day to house an inmate at Knox County Jail.
When a person is arrested and taken to jail, a bail commissioner is called in to set bail. They look at whether the suspect has prior convictions, especially for failing to appear in court or violating condition of release. Once bail is set, some suspects either cannot afford to post the bail, or they are not allowed to have bail for various reasons. In some cases this may be based on the type of crime they are accused of committing.
Maine Pretrial Services receives a list each weekday of inmates who were unable to make bail. It then screens these inmates to evaluate whether they pose a flight risk or risk to public safety. This means looking at criminal history, any history of mental health or substance abuse problems and a variety of other information. The suspects are then assigned a score indicating their level of risk.
What the case managers do not want is the suspect's version of events, since Maine Pretrial workers could be called into court to testify in the case. Robbins said he stresses that people have the right to remain silent concerning their case.
The case managers will also be in court on the day of the suspect's initial appearance, to provide information, if necessary concerning the bail being set.
If the individual is eligible for supervised bail, a pre-conviction supervision contract is drawn up. This will have a number of requirements, including that the suspect report to Maine Pretrial Services as instructed (usually weekly), abstain from use of drugs or alcohol, seek employment, and/or undergo drug/alcohol/mental health counseling.
The contract has to be signed by the defendant, case manager and judge.
Those on supervised bail meet with case managers once a week at the office. Males may be subjected to observed urine drug tests at the office. Females are tested for drugs by female officers at the jail.
If they test positive for drugs, the case manager will call the District Attorney's office and report the violation of the supervised bail, and will, in most cases, be instructed to contact police, who will take the individual into custody.
Robbins said the defendants, who hear the phone call, and know they are about to be arrested also know there is no smoking at the jail. They sometimes ask to go out for a cigarette before police arrive. He said it makes no difference to him, but if they do not come back or flee, it will go worse for them. Only in one case has that happened, where a defendant got in his vehicle and tore out of the parking lot, going across the street to the McDonald's where he sat and watched the police search the parking lot at 91 Camden St. for him. Eventually he was caught and the escape made matters worse.
Defendants are also required to call in daily and leave a message on the voicemail. Failure to leave that message is a violation.
The case managers ask how suspects are doing in their employment or search for employment, and will check to make sure the defendant is undergoing required substance abuse treatment.
Robbins and workers at the jail say the majority of those charged with crimes in Knox County have problems with substance abuse.
In pre-conviction, you still have the presumption of innocence. "Here you have a case where that person has not been convicted of anything, and you need to be careful not to establish conditions of bail that are intended to punish them," Robbins said.
"One of the things that is important, that makes this work, is that we are neither an advocate for the defendant, nor are we an arm of the state," he said. "We are neutral. ...We don't have a vested interest in the outcome of the cases."
Maine pretrial started in Knox County around 2003. It is a private, non-profit entity that partners with the county jail to provide these services.
It currently works with about 67 individuals. In addition to working with pre-conviction defendants, it works with the Title 30-A home release program, deferred dispositions, post-conviction reentry planning and community supervision, and case management to all Maine problem-solving courts (Adult Drug Treatment Courts, Co-Occurring Disorders and Veterans' Courts, and Family Treatment Drug Courts), according to its website.
It employs two case managers in Knox County: Brian Collins and Todd Butler. Richard Robbins supervises all the Maine Pretrial case managers working in 11 counties.
Waldo County receives similar services through Volunteers of America, according to Major Raymond Porter of the Maine Coastal Regional Reentry Center.
For more information visit mainepretrial.org.
Courier Publications News Director Daniel Dunkle can be reached at email@example.com or 594-4401 ext. 122.
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Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and news director for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, Christine, who also works for Courier Publications, and two children.
Dunkle has previously served as editor of The Republican Journal in Belfast. He has worked as a reporter and photographer in the Midcoast since 1998.