Routt, Moffat counties study pre-trial services
In an effort to help the community feel safer, Routt and Moffat counties are exploring the idea of pretrial services, where those who have not yet been sentenced in court would still face certain accountability measures.
The idea is in its early stages, but District Attorney Matt Karzen said the program could include ankle monitors, drug tests and daily visits with a pretrial services counselor. The program would primarily be used for violent or repeat offenders, he added.
“In the 14th District, we really only have one or two dangerous folks like that at a time,” Karzen said. “Because of that, one of the things we may be able to do is actually have full-time employees who are watching people 24/7 on an active GPS.”
Karzen and domestic violence experts said this would be especially useful in domestic violence cases, where offenders who are not held in jail as they go through the court system sometimes harass or hurt their victims.
“Domestic violence offenders should be required to get ankle monitors — that is certainly going to make our victims feel significantly safer,” said Lisel Petis, executive director of Advocates of Routt County. “To me, that is the solution.“
In Routt County, many defendants are let out of a jail on a personal recognizance bond — meaning they are let out without paying a fee but are required to pay a set amount if they do not appear in court. Karzen said the PR bond system was built to ensure bond was equitable and did not penalize low-income defendants, but it has created issues when violent offenders are let out of jail and return to harass their victims.
“There are certain folks, who if they know they have to check in with their supervisor a few times a week, they may be less likely to start going way deep into their old shenanigans,” Karzen said. “I think it has real value in providing a deterrent effect of just knowing you have to check in with a pretrial services person.”
Routt County Commissioner Tim Redmond, who sits on the committee exploring pretrial services, said the goal is to find a balance between ensuring the bond system is equitable for all and keeping victims safe from violent perpetrators.
“We’ve got some tricky questions that are being asked that we have to answer, but I personally feel that cash bail has a discriminatory impact,” Redmond said. “I see us finding that balance between holding people accountable and giving them the ability to go on with their lives after they’ve made a mistake.”
While the advisory committee — comprised of Karzen, sheriffs from both counties, a county commissioner from each county, a public defender, Advocates of Routt County Executive Director Lisel Petis and Judge Michael O’Hara — has not officially met yet, Karzen hopes to implement the program six to eight weeks after they receive funding, which he said will be doable if the committee follows the lead of other Colorado districts that have implemented such programs.
“To me, one of the things we want to avoid doing is reinventing the wheel,” Karzen said. “We can learn from other programs and take some of their experiences, but we also want to customize it to our needs.”
Karzen said he plans to communicate with Larimer County, one of the first counties in Colorado to develop pretrial services and has success with the program.
If a pretrial services program is adopted, Routt and Moffat counties will have to decide where the services office will be located and who will serve as staff members. Karzen said he hopes to launch a nationwide search for a person to lead the program, and he would like to hire a former probation officer or someone working in pretrial services in another district.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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