Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council told of progress in pretrial monitoring programs, behavioral health court

At the end of Monday’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council meeting, Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan said the local momentum to reform the county’s criminal justice system would continue despite any lack of enthusiasm President Donald Trump might have for the issue.

The meeting’s previous 90 minutes gave testimony to that resolve as the CJCC was updated on progress on initiatives involving the electronic monitoring pilot program, a proposed pretrial monitoring program and the behavioral health court.

Michelle Roberts, chief operations officer for Douglas County Court Services, reminded CJCC members that the behavioral health court of District Court Judge Salley Pokorny was introduced early in the fall with one defendant. The program releases inmates with mental health issues or dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse from the Douglas County Jail to the court, which then orders and monitors treatment.

With the court now operating with $443,000 in funding that the County Commission authorized for 2017, the court has started accepting new defendants, Roberts said. Last week, the court added its second defendant from four applications.

Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said the other three inmates reviewed were screened out because of histories of violence. The behavioral court’s policies and procedures have now been shared with the county’s defense attorneys, which should lead to a better understanding of those eligible for the court, he said. Two more applications for the court were received Monday, he said.

The court is expected to divert as many as 30 inmates from the jail annually.

Roberts said five new inmates were diverted to house arrest in January through a pilot electronic monitoring program. The county started the 90-day pilot program Nov. 21, when a manufacturer made 10 electronic devices available. The company later provided two more at its expense, she said.

The five inmates diverted from jail in January equated to five beds saved at the Douglas County Jail for a total of 81 days, Roberts said. Twenty-five inmates have been released since the program was started in November, saving the county 1,521 days of jail time, she said.

Once the trial period is complete, court services is expected to request the County Commission to purchase monitors to continue the program.

“We’re doing a great job,” Roberts said. “We haven’t even kicked up the program yet. We have to do it right. We have to get our policies and procedures in place and not rush the program.”

Ensuring there was a thorough understanding of the county’s proposed pretrial monitoring program among defense attorneys and judges would be key to its success, said Allen Beck. The goal of the program is that of electronic monitoring, but it would release low-risk inmates from jail with Court Services making followup phone calls to help assure they make required court dates.

A resident of Kansas City, Mo., Beck has been aiding the county as an unpaid consultant in its criminal justice review. The Douglas County Commission will consider Wednesday a contract with Beck that would pay him $5,000 a month through June 30

Proper assessment was needed to evaluate inmates for the risks of failing to appear for court dates, staying free of criminal activity while released and a positive response to the program’s more relaxed monitoring efforts, which he said was not “supervision,” Beck said.

His recent consulting experience on the same pretrial issue in Minnesota underscored the need to fully inform the defense bar and judges of policies and procedures, Beck said. The county would also need to track the program once it was in place, he said.

“You want to make sure what you got passes the scratch-and-sniff tests,” he said. “Does it make a difference? Is it better than the old system? We will be asked to show results.”?

His previous experience was that the program could have a “signification impact” on the Douglas County Jail’s numbers, Beck said.