A committee of judicial and law enforcement officials who have been meeting about Cole County’s pre-trial services for more than a year now wants to expand its scope.

The Cole County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee met Monday at the Cole County Sheriff’s Department.

Committee members said the group not only will work to make the pre-trial program better, but will also work to facilitate more communication among local law enforcement agencies on other criminal justice issues.

For now, the focus is on the pre-trial program, which was started in Cole County in 2013 as a way to reduce costs and the number of prisoners housed in the Cole County Jail.

There are currently 120 people being supervised in the program, including some on GPS monitoring or house arrest.

Records from 2013-18 show 714 were in the pre-trial program. Each defendant charged with a felony who remains in jail and is unable to make bond for more than three days is to be screened through a pre-trial release coordinator. Those who are considered low risk of continued criminal conduct and low risk of failure to appear enter the program.

Cole County Pre-Trial Coordinator Richard Lee collects information and gives it to the judges to show whether a defendant would qualify for pre-trial release.

Lee, with assistance from one other full-time staff member and two part-time staffers, along with court marshals, implements supervision services such as call-ins, drug testing, monitor violations, and verification of residency and employment.

Lee said they have met their goal of reducing potential overcrowding at the county jail by saving 116,494 bed days in the last five years. That, in turn, has enabled the county to house more federal prisoners, which the county is paid for.

The daily cost for holding a prisoner is $70.78, while the cost to keep a person on the pre-trial program is $4.35 a day.

The pre-trial caseload has increased since the start of the year, Lee said, as pre-trial assessments are done three days a week in an effort to get potential bond information to judges as quickly as possible. He said it’s part of a new rule from the Missouri Supreme Court that all courts in the state will have to implement by summer.

Other areas the group is looking at are bail bonds and new rules addressing those from the Missouri Supreme Court. Cole County Judge Jon Beetem said they want to make sure those causing physical harm to citizens — especially in domestic violence cases — are dealt with in a proper manner so they can’t harm their victims. They are also looking at what non-monetary conditions must be met for release.

Beetem said the group should start looking at what the county will need to do in 2021, when the judicial system begins recognizing people as juveniles at age 18 rather than age 17. Not only will that mean changes at the Prenger Juvenile Detention Center for holding juvenile offenders, he said, but they should start looking at alternative ways to handle juveniles who commit crimes. He noted the most common current alternatives for juveniles who commit a serious offense is to put them into an adult correctional facility, which isn’t always the best for the juvenile’s future.

Also discussed at Monday’s meeting were new potential alternative courts. The county already uses DWI, drug and veterans courts as ways to help reduce recidivism. Cole County Treatment Court Administrator Larry Henry said they want to add a mental health court if they secure federal or state funding. He said they are already incorporating some of the work a mental health court would do in the existing drug court.

​B​y Jeff Haldiman | News Tribune​