Amarillo, TX - Local defense attorney Jeff Blackburn is calling for reforms to the Potter County misdemeanor system.
The system is dysfunctional, broken and wasting taxpayer money, according to the report he released today. The "Too much money, too little justice" report is an audit of how Potter County handled Class A and Class B misdemeanors in 2012.
The 44-page audit found the county spent more than $4.9 million in 2012 to house people in jail before they ever stood trial. Blackburn found people who could not afford bond were locked up for an average of 92 days. "We are wasting millions of dollars on putting people in jail and not allowing them to get immediately out, especially for low-level, non-violent misdemeanors," said Blackburn.
He is now asking county officials to consider a pre-trial release system.
Potter County Attorney Scott Brumley said it's already in the works. "We're already underway in trying to develop a program to divert mentally ill offenders," said Brumley. "The hope is we will be able to create a pre-trial services department of some sort, whether it's housed in the probation department or elsewhere in order to help make that happen. But there has to be someone to keep track of these folks as they are diverted to whatever program is appropriate to their problem."
Blackburn is also pushing for a public defender system and an independent audit. "Scott Brumley has manipulated the system to the point where even though he gets to look like a winner, he's costing every taxpayer in this county to be the loser," claimed Blackburn. "It's irresponsible, it's crooked and it's wrong."
"The criminal justice system certainly can use reform," said Brumley. "I would agree with that. We're working on it and we're happy to work with people who want to work with us. Calling people names is not a way to get that underway. The irony of all of this, is actually, I don't disagree with most of the recommendations in that report. I don't disagree with the pretrial release program. I don't disagree with a public defenders office, although that is not my call to make."
Brumley said he welcomes a dialogue with Blackburn, who is planning a public forum in September. "It will be a real public debate about what we're doing wrong and about what steps we ought to take to move forward," previewed Blackburn. "If this report does anything, our number one hope is that it will kick start that discussion."
To read Blackburn's report, click here.