Pretrial program aims to reduce burdens that court proceedings create
The Summit County Sheriff’s Office has opened opportunities for defendants arrested for “honest mistakes” to become pretrial service clients as part of the Sheriff’s Office’s efforts to decrease court no-shows. Launched June 7, the program is meant to decrease the burden on defendants before sentencing while also increasing participation in the judicial system.
Summit County Sheriff’s Office Detentions Commander Jake Straw said the program is aimed at people who’ve made “honest mistakes” and diminish the amount of negative impacts the judicial process can take on someone’s life.
“People in our community need to go to work, provide for their families and pay their rent,” he said.
Time-consuming court proceedings can take away someone’s ability to live their life, and the program hopes to remedy that. In addition, he said, the program can correct some problems with bail bond systems.
“Providing pretrial services is a game-changer for our community as it supports the abundance of research concluding monetary bonds are ineffective in assuring court appearance and compliance with bond conditions,” said Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons.
The Pretrial Assessment and Supervised Treatment team, known as PAST, works like a guide for people facing criminal charges. The plainclothes team helps “clients” comply with court orders like attending court appearances, completing drug tests and gathering information for the court. Pretrial Assessment and Supervised Treatment clients can also receive automated messages reminding them about appearances. Before, all defendants would have to navigate the judicial system on their own.
With the support of prosecutors and the defendant’s counsel, judges can now order eligible individuals to pretrial services, and some judges already have. Straw said a good number of clients have already gone through the program.
The program does not remove bonds from the situation, Straw said, but it can create a more equal playing field. Several reports have found money bonds are ineffective at increasing participation, he said. The sheriff’s office consulted reports and cost benefit analysis, which identified pretrial services as effective and cost saving. The longer a defendant sits in jail awaiting trial, the more it costs taxpayers to detain them. The only way out for a defendant is to post bond.
“Monetary bonds serve people that have money,” he said.
The whole idea of a bond is to ensure someone returns, a task the Pretrial Assessment and Supervised Treatment team can also assist with, he said. Straw said it’s expected most pretrial service assignments will come with a personal recognizance bond, a bond with no money taken from the defendant until they fail to appear, unlike most bonds which require money posted up front. However other forms of bond can still be issued with pretrial services, Straw said.
Unlike bonds, Straw said pretrial services are empirically based. He outlined the process by explaining defendants are given a pretrial assessment to determine their eligibility for the program. The process begins with a pretrial technician informing the defendant about the program and screening the defendant. Then a committee determines the defendant’s eligibility based on several factors like past criminal history and the nature of the current offense. The committee is made up of a civilian and representatives from the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office. It is overseen by judge Mark Thompson. After eligibility is determined, the decision to permit pretrial services falls to the prosecution, defendant’s counsel and ultimately the presiding judge.
Someone currently on probation, facing an open or pending felony case or other high-risk crime, would not be considered eligible, Straw said.
A goal of the program is reduced recidivism, the Sheriff’s Office said in a release. Clients will receive supervision, and Pretrial Assessment and Supervised Treatment team members will monitor chemical testing and connect clients with mental health and substance abuse support. Team members will meet with clients regularly.
If a client fails to appear, Pretrial Assessment and Supervised Treatment can request a 24-hour grace period from the court to contact its client and attempt to reschedule. Otherwise, a judge might issue an arrest warrant for failing to appear.
Summit County now joins a group of 13 other counties with pretrial services. Straw said the Sheriff’s Office modeled its program off of other programs in Colorado.
The program began sprouting its roots in 2020, when Judge Mark Thompson sought money from the correctional treatment board to help defendants attend chemical testing, Straw said, and that small effort grew into a conversation with FitzSimons, eventually evolving into the Pretrial Assessment and Supervised Treatment program.
The Sheriff’s Office added two dedicated pretrial technicians to its team to assist the Pretrial Assessment and Supervised Treatment program. Additionally, members of the county’s mental health support units, Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team and Strategies to Avoid Relapse and Recidivism, can assist clients when needed.
While new, the Pretrial Assessment and Supervised Treatment team is not part of a trial program. It’s here to stay, Straw said.
The program’s funding comes from money allotted by the county.
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