Progress made on alternatives to incarceration, Douglas County commissioners told

Douglas County Jail

Subcommittees of the Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council are now active, and the one charged with finding alternatives to incarceration is working with county staff on a number of initiatives, Douglas County commissioners were told Wednesday.

Robert Bieniecki, who was hired in August to lead the Coordinating Council, told commissioners that three subcommittees were meeting on their assigned topics — the high representation of people of color in the county’s criminal justice system, the high representation of people of color in the Douglas County Jail, and alternatives to incarceration.

The committees considering the high representation of people of color in the criminal justice system and in the jail were starting their tasks with data collection, Bieniecki said. The subcommittee considering the jail population had a head start because the county corrections department has eight years of significant data to mine.

The subcommittee on alternatives to incarceration got off to a quicker start, in part because of progress on a number of existing initiatives such as a mental health court, a pre-trial monitoring program and house arrest options with electronic monitoring.

The mental health court is on track to start proceedings in 2017, and could serve as many as 30 people in its first year, Bieniecki said. In July, county commissioners agreed to provide $443,000 in the 2017 budget for the program, which will provide for the release of qualifying inmates under the supervision of a case manager, who will actively arrange and monitor their treatment.

The pre-trial monitoring program is designed to allow qualifying low-level offenders to be released while being monitored to ensure that they attend court dates and other court-ordered activities. Bieniecki said the program will have one full-time employee and one employee who will work 90 percent of the time with the monitoring program and 10 percent with the mental health court. He said the program could have an initial case load of 50 to 75 people. Bieniecki illustrated the potential of the program by citing a similar Johnson County initiative, in which the release and monitoring of 600 inmates prevented an overflow population in that county’s 1,085-bed jail.

The house-arrest monitoring program could be introduced with the use of electronic monitors for those convicted of low-level DUI offenses, Bieniecki said. It could then be expanded if it proves effective, he said.

Another bed-saving initiative being pursued is an attempt to expedite the journal entry process for inmates who have been convicted of felony crimes in Douglas County District Court. It can take as many as 10 days before the District Court, prosecutors and defense attorneys complete the journal entries required to transfer a convicted person to a state corrections facility. Bieniecki said some jurisdictions can accomplish that in two days.

County Commissioner Mike Gaughan said the initiatives showed that those in the county’s criminal justice system have been proactive in exploring alternatives to incarceration. It was noted at the Coordinating Council’s August retreat that of the 30 best alternatives to incarceration identified nationwide, the county had 20 in place and was working to start five to six more, Gaughan said.