County commissioners don’t yet have timeline for jail decision; county-appointed board won’t be asked for recommendation on jail expansion

Douglas County Jail

The county-appointed group that is studying ways to improve the criminal justice system won’t be asked to give its opinion on how — or whether — the Douglas County Jail should be expanded.

Douglas County commissioners on Tuesday told members of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council that they were not expecting a recommendation from that body regarding any building program at the jail.

County commissioners also told the group they aren’t sure when the County Commission will make a decision on jail expansion issues.

Commissioners said there is no timeline for a jail decision, despite the comments from some in the community that a decision was coming in the next few weeks. The County Commission is processing information and allowing new Commissioner Michelle Derusseau, who joined the board in January, to get comfortable with the issue.

“We’re taking in a lot of information,” Commissioner Nancy Thellman said. “We have a lot of work to do. We have things to figure out.”

For her part, Derusseau said commissioners recognized the need for more or better housing at the jail for mentally ill inmates, female inmates and those in the work release program, as well as a classification pod for new inmates.

“What you are looking with here (CJCC) with the criminal justice system is an ongoing process that goes way beyond the jail,” she said.

County Commissioner Mike Gaughan, who also chairs the coordinating council, said he doesn’t think the CJCC needs to make a recommendation on jail expansion. But Gaughan said he does want more information from the council before he makes a decision on jail issues. Specifically, he said he wanted more information on pretrial release programs, which would expand the use of no-cash jail bonds.

“My expectation is the CJCC continue to collaborate and innovate on how we can do criminal justice better in Douglas County,” he said. “My expectation is you will continue to collaborate and work together on programs you can’t do yourself.”

It also was decided at the meeting to invite representatives of Justice Matters to the next CJCC meeting, scheduled for May 9. The decision was made at the suggestion of CJCC member Bob Tryanski as a way of fostering better communication with the group. He said it would be a better venue for such an exchange than Justice Matters’ annual Nehemiah Assembly, which he said he had declined to attend.

The invitation would give Justice Matters an opportunity to present its research into criminal justice reform, explain concerns, take questions from the CJCC and clear up misunderstandings, Tryanski said.

Reached after Tuesday’s meeting, Justice Matters executive board member Brent Hoffman said representatives of the group would attend the next meeting.

“Yes, we would welcome any opportunity to dialogue about the jail population,” he said.

In other business, the council:

• Heard a report on the county’s new behavioral health court. Sharon Zehr, Bert Nash Community Mental Health team leader with the behavioral health court, said the court was now functioning with three participants. It was processing six more referrals to the program. Nine applications for the court were reject because the nmates were in jail for violent offenses, Zehr said. Funded at $443,000 in 2017, the court is expected to eventually have a case load of about 30 people.

• Heard a report that 20 people were in the pretrial release program that makes use of electronic monitoring.