by Mindy Aguon
Guam - As the Government of Guam looks to reduce costs, one defense attorney has suggested that taxpayers could spend significantly less by having less pre-trial detainees behind bars. It costs more to house those waiting for trial than those who are convicted of crimes.
It costs island taxpayers approximately $51,000 a day to pay for Department of Corrections inmates and pre-trial detainees. Inmates are those who are convicted and sentenced to incarceration while detainees are those who are awaiting trial. According to DepCor, there are currently 600 individuals in the prison system, but what's more alarming is that more than half of the population isn't convicted felons, but individuals waiting to be tried. "There were 359 people being held pre-trial by the prison system here and only 241 people who were actually convicted of crimes in prison," noted defense attorney Randy Cunliffe.
While pursuing the misapplication of bail statutes in his client, Jimmy Chin Song's, case, Cunliffe learned of the situation. "That's an astounding fact because the cost to the taxpayers for housing all these people is enormous. More than half of the budget goes to people who should be out on bail," he said.
If you take the 600 individuals who are behind bars and multiply the cost of $85 a day by 365 days a year, the cost to taxpayers is a whopping $18.6 million a year - and that's not even including additional costs for medical and dental expenses that prisoners and detainees may need. According to Cunliffe, there's no justifiable reason why there are so many pre-trial detainees sitting behind bars, as he said, "The cost to the Government of incarcerating these guys 24/7 for how long is just unconscionable."
The defense attorney says he's heard assistant attorneys general talking in court, saying they would have sought higher bail amounts if they knew that defendants could post lower cash bail amounts. Cunliffe is concerned, saying the bail statutes are to ensure a defendant will appear in court, not to keep them in jail. In fact, in his client's case, after posting $50,000 bail, the AG's Office immediately turned around and sought a higher bail amount.
Cunliffe added, "It's just a game they play, and it's wrong. Wrong for the people that get incarcerated and a lot of these people are poor. They say $2,000. The guy can't post $2,000 cash. I mean what's the purpose of it. The purpose of it, I believe, is to try to force people to plead guilty. I got you in jail and the only way you're gonna get out is if you plead guilty. And that's not what the system is for."
And while it's costing taxpayers significant sums for each individual who isn't able to post bail, Attorney General Leonardo Rapadas contends the bail amounts his attorneys ask for aren't meant to strongarm anybody. "We make our decisions based on case by case basis, it's cut and dry, there are no cookie cutter answers or bail amounts and so we at every case on a case by case basis. I'm don't even want to respond to any particular defense attorney's question of our bail request," he said.