El Paso County Texas Commissioner’s Court: Show Me the Money

El Paso Commissioner’s Court:  Even when it’s all about the money – and not the victim or justice – the County still fails miserably.

Over the past two years, El Paso’s Commissioner’s Court has prided itself on the implementation and growth of its pretrial program.  However, this past week, the group met to assess the status of the program and let’s just say, managing defendants isn’t as easy as they thought.  According to the data reported in the meeting, since 2015, El Paso’s pretrial program has amassed an over 200% increase in bail judgements (188 in 2015 to 569 in 2017).  Those judgements equate to a whopping $3,190,507 that is owed to the county and remains uncollected.

This lack of success isn’t just a recent phenomenon.  Going back beyond the last 5 years, the county of El Paso is owed well over $12,000,000 in bail judgements – yes, that’s $12 MILLION. And how much of that $12 Million was the El Paso pretrial program able to collect from defendants…a whopping $7,563.

During that same period, the surety bail industry, collected and paid to the county of El Paso, over $3,941,741 in judgements.  Why?  Because the bail agencies are required to pay ALL bail judgements or they lose their license…even if paying the judgements means they go out of business.  In other words, being a bail agent is not an easy thing to do and the county of El Paso is learning the hard way with taxpayers’ money.

What seemed like a great way to enrich the county of El Paso, doesn’t seem to be working as well as the commission planned.  The discussion during last week’s meeting focused on how the county can do a better job collecting money.  They talked about processes and procedures they could implement. The one thing they didn’t talk about was justice or victims.  What the commissioners court doesn’t seem to realize is that every time a bond is forfeited, and the defendant fails to appear in court, there is a victim who is not getting a chance at justice.  Every time someone doesn’t show up for court, there is an additional cost to the county of wasted time, staffing and resources (according to a 2013 University of Texas study, this cost is $1,775 per defendant).  If you factor that cost in, which is $2,410,450* (1,358 Judgements x $1,775) the amount that that county is losing increases substantially. So when the county says that they are owed $4,583,101 in bail judgements since 2013, you need to realize that cost is actually higher. It is more like $6,700,000*. (*Since this number is only being calculated using bail judgements and not actual courtroom failures to appear, we can assume that the real cost is much higher.)

Taking all of these costs into consideration, including the $2 million the county spent to set up the PR program, the total cost to the taxpayers of El Paso for its ineffective pretrial program since 2013 is as follows:

Cost of program            $6,000,000 (*based on an annual pretrial cost of $2 Million)
Cost of judgements      $4,583,101
Judgements paid          ($7,563)
Cost of FTA’s                  $2,410,450**(based on judgements not on forfeitures)
TOTAL                             $12,985,988

Remember that this program was sold as a way to save the county money.  With a cost of close to $13,000,000 since 2013, it hardly seems like the county’s pretrial program is saving the county money.  It hardly seems like the pretrial program is ensuring that defendants show up for court.  It hardly seems like the pretrial program is keeping the community safer.  Managing defendants is not as simple as the county thinks.  It involves experience, relationships and sound underwriting.  It involves understanding the role of the family in mitigating risk and ensuring appearance.

It is all about the money – while at the same time – not being about the money.  The financial incentive and family involvement is what gets defendants to show up for court, but ultimately it is not about the money.  It is about the effective dispensing of justice, something that the commissioners court didn’t mention once.  To them, it seemed like it was all about the money…

  • How do we collect more?
  • How do we collect better?
  • How do we collect sooner?

Instead, the commissioners court should have been focused on the more important questions that matter….

  • How do we get defendant to show up for court?
  • How do we ensure that the citizens of El Paso get a fair chance at justice if a crime is committed against them.

It is very easy to sit back and say hey, lets get into the bail business and generate money for the county.  But it is a very different thing to actually do it successfully.

Maybe its time that El Paso turn things back to the professionals and save El Paso taxpayers some hard earned, valuable tax dollars.

Watch the El Paso County Commissioners Court Meeting… (begin at 2:00:33)


Shouldn’t we demand more from our legislators?