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County working to create pretrial office, bondsmen up in arms

The possible creation of a county pretrial office has some local bondsmen up in arms.

The office is meant to reduce the county’s jail costs by releasing low-risk offenders instead of leaving them behind bars. While the program might save the county money, bondsmen say it will take a bite out of their wallet.

Right now county officials are working to create the pretrial office, also being called the judicial services office. The question is: Will the office be under the supervision of county commissioners or the council of judges?

Commissioner Vince Perez said the county is trying to consolidate pretrial functions into one department to improve efficiency and save taxpayers money.

The owners of Freedom Bail Bonds disagree. They say proposed changes to the county bail-bond system would put them and other surety bond companies out of business.

Stephanie Townsend Allala represents the Professional Bondsmen of El Paso.She wants to know how shifting people from five to six different departments into a new pretrial office will benefit the county.

“The jail is still gonna be operating, so how are we going to save money,” Townsend Allala asked. “Despite requests to Vince Perez, we’ve not received one iota of evidence that says that there will actually be anything saved.”

Townsend Allala said commissioners are required to have open meetings before creating the new pretrial office. County Judge Veronica Escobar clarified commissioners only approved a budget amendment Monday, which gives county staff another 30 days to find out what type of consolidation, if any, would make the most sense.

That includes figuring out who will oversee the pretrial office, commissioners or the judges.

“We’ve been very forthcoming about the intent to create a judicial services office,” Escobar said. “This was not the action that would make that happen. The action will have to be posted appropriately and come after a little bit more due diligence is done.”

Perez said staffers have been doing research and analyzing workflows for many months in order to hopefully propose the pretrial office within the next couple weeks.

KVIA ABC-7

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