14th Judicial District studying pretrial services | SteamboatToday.com

14th Judicial District studying pretrial services

Survey to look at effectiveness of bail approach

McKenna Harford
Sky-Hi News

When arrests are made in the 14th Judicial District, judges are limited in how they can respond due to a lack of pretrial services in the area. That may soon change as the district conducts a study to determine what pretrial services could look like in Grand, Moffatt and Routt counties.

Pretrial services consist of a supervision and support network for individuals while they await the outcome of their cases. They offer another option besides keeping people in jail on high monetary bonds or releasing them on personal recognizance.

“It looks similar in that you may have face-to-face contact with a pretrial agent the same way you would a probation officer,” District Attorney Matt Karzen said. “(The services) would be potentially applicable at any point from the time of arrest and release to the time the case is finished.”

Karzen said pretrial services help provide extra accountability while allowing people to receive additional help, such as mental health care or substance abuse treatment. Currently, judges can set conditions for bond, but there’s no way for the court to enforce them.

He estimated the services would be beneficial in an average of 30% of cases per year, though the survey will help quantify the need in the district.

“There is a notable portion of the population charged with crimes that do (need these services) for one reason or another,” Karzen said. “There are few people in this jurisdiction that need to be incapacitated in the manner equivalent to being jailed prior to being convicted of a crime.”

Giving judges the option of pretrial services also helps to address some of the flaws with the monetary bond system, which Karzen called problematic.

“The only option a judge has is to categorize somebody’s threat level by imposing a big price tag on their freedom, prior to conviction,” he said.

Karzen pointed to the success pretrial services have seen in other areas and at the federal level, noting the services have led to lower recidivism rates and higher success with court appearances.

According to the Prison Policy Institute, a Washington county implemented a similar pretrial services program as the one Karzen described, which resulted in the reoffense rate dropping 20%.

“Without incarcerating people, you are providing a measure of supervision and accountability you can reduce the risk to public safety that is presented by some people who are charged with a crime but are out on bond,” Karzen said.

Each of the four counties in the district, as well as the DA’s Office, will contribute funding for the survey. Grand County’s commissioners approved up to $10,000 for the survey Tuesday.

Karzen said he expects the results of the survey sometime in the summer.

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