County commissioners apologize to criminal justice coordinating council for oversight

photo by: Mike Yoder

Douglas County Jail

Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan started Tuesday’s Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting with an apology.

Gaughan, who is chairman of the coordinating council, apologized for not telling its members at a June 28 meeting that the County Commission would consider the next day awarding a contract to Treanor Architects to do further design work on the Douglas County Jail.

He didn’t mean to keep coordinating council members in the dark on the development, but overlooked bringing the matter to their attention, he said. As a remedy against any future mistake, County Commission agendas will now be sent to coordinating council members, he said.

Coordinating council member Edith Guffey said she brought the matter to Gaughan’s attention because she thought it was central to the coordinating council’s credibility. Commissioners’ decision to approve the additional jail design work without informing the coordinating council of the issue gave the impression to the public that the body was “window dressing,” she said.

Gaughan said to address those concerns, the Douglas County Commission would attend the coordinating council’s next meeting on Aug. 9 to ensure everyone “was on the same page” and define commissioners’ expectations of the coordinating council. He said he thought it was important to establish those expectations before the coordinating council’s planned Aug. 27 retreat.

The coordinating council may have a coordinator by that retreat. The County Commission has agreed to fund that position with someone who can lead meetings, undertake and coordinate research and write reports. Coordinating council member Susan Hadl said a committee of members would interview on Tuesday and Wednesday four finalists from the 62 people who applied for the position.

The coordinating council also received an update from Mike Brouwer, director of the Douglas County Jail’s re-entry program, and Michelle Roberts, chief services officer with Douglas County Court Services, on the jail and Court Services’ bond supervision pilot program, which attempts to arrange the release of low-level offenders from the county jail.

Brouwer explained that the program involved jail staff assessing the risk of released inmates appearing for court dates. Once those with acceptable risk levels are released, Court Services monitors them to help ensure they make court dates and comply with bond conditions, he said. The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office would determine if inmates were safe to release from jail, Brouwer said.

Those assessed to be a low risk could be released on a personal recognizance bond. Those with higher levels of risk would be scheduled for supervised release, during which a Court Services staffer would check on them and remind them of court dates. Even higher at-risk inmates could be released with supervision and GPS ankle bracelets, he said.

There are seven or eight “long-term” offenders in the pilot program, many placed in it by Douglas County District Court judges, coordinating council members were told. The only thing preventing a wider rollout of the program was funding for more supervision officers, Brouwer said.

The program is modeled off a successful one in Johnson County, Brouwer said. The 575 people in that program from November 2015 to April 2016 appeared at their court dates 95 percent of the time, and only 1 percent of those offenders returned to jail, he said.