Cole County Presiding Judge Pat Joyce and the Cole County Commission are sponsoring a new advisory committee to analyze the status of pretrial services in the county.
At a meeting April 2 at the Jefferson City Police Department, the committee will explain how the program works and how it has expanded, Joyce said. Members of law enforcement, local government, the probation and parole office, drug treatment programs, the prosecutor’s office and the public defender’s office are scheduled to attend.
Cole County is one of six counties using the pretrial program in Missouri.
“We want to make sure they know what we’re doing, and if they feel we need to make or don’t need to make some changes we can look at that,” Joyce said. “When we started, we were one of four in the state. We used the program Greene County did, which they modeled after a program in Kentucky. We’ve expanded the program since then to supervision in drug courts if a case is a misdemeanor.”
In summer 2013, Joyce presented the idea to establish a pretrial release screening and supervision program.
The judges in the circuit, along with the Cole County Sheriff’s Department, told county commissioners the program would provide better information to the courts to make bond decisions and would create accountability for defendants released prior to trial proceedings.
At the time, commissioners had concerns about a growing inmate population at the county jail, which had been open only a few years but often saw inmate numbers close to capacity.
Joyce said the Cole County courts had no resources, other than relying on the prosecutors’ limited information to assess the risk of flight and danger to the community posed by a defendant. That meant bond decisions were made based on factors that led to more pretrial incarceration.
A number of jurisdictions in the state found people could be released pretrial with some form of supervision without significant negative consequences, leading to substantial direct and indirect cost savings, Joyce said.
The program, which began in September 2013, calls for each defendant charged with a felony who remains in jail and is unable to make bond for more than three days to be screened through a pretrial release coordinator. Richard Lee is the coordinator for Cole County.
Lee collects information and gives it to the judges to show whether a defendant would qualify for pretrial release.
Lee, with assistance of court marshals, implemented supervision services such as call-ins, drug testing, monitor violations, and verification of residency and employment.
By the end of 2013, he said, the courts were meeting their goal of reducing overcrowding at the jail, reducing potentially 6,665 bed days.
In 2014, the program reduced 15,174 potential bed days in the jail, 23,612 in 2015 and in 2016.
“A large percentage of those who end up on probation are successful because of the supervision they’ve had while they’re on pretrial,” Joyce said. “It’s a good way to transition to supervised probation. Not everybody is successful. What I’ve learned is that while a case is pending there’s a lot of uncertainty, so people go back to what is comfortable to them — what you understand or believe — and unfortunately that can be alcohol and or drugs.”
Since 2013, Lee said, more than 200 people have been through the program in Cole County. The county’s latest figures show a 71 percent success rate through the program’s first three years.
“The majority completed their probation and parole sentences, and just a few ended up in prison,” Lee said. “In October, the state began the ‘Track Your Case’ service on the courts website, and we’ve signed up 526 people so they can make sure they know when their next court date is. A lot of times, when we have people failing to appear for a court date, it’s not intentional.
“Working with Judge Joyce’s court, we’ve had 56 such cases, and 41 of them have been put back on the court docket. That saves the police and sheriff’s departments from having to track these folks down and get them through the booking process, which takes time and costs a lot of money.”
Lee said they are looking to work smarter with the pretrial program.
“If we can get someone back out into society as a productive worker, then they aren’t a burden on the system,” he said. “We had one young man who was 17 and working with the prosecutor’s office; we were able to get him into the Job Corps Program. He decided he would stay an extra month in jail while this could be set up for him to get into the program. He now is in training to be a painter.”
The plan is for the advisory committee to meet twice a month through August, completing a report to show what the program has accomplished and what can be done to make it better.
By Jeff Haldiman | Jefferson City News Tribune