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Pretrial services may show promise, but savings may take longer

One of the county’s biggest recent projects may be starting to see results. But with more expenses coming and less than two months on the books, others say it’s way too soon to call it anything besides a work in progress.

The county’s Criminal Justice Coordination Department, often called pretrial services, has been in full operation just since the start of December. And major supporters say it’s already paying off.

“There’s been nearly a ten percent drop (in jail population) in just a couple of months,” said County Commissioner Vince Perez. “I think is a good sign.”

Perez credits that drop in jail population to pretrial services, but any gains have come with increased challenges as well. Monday, commissioners voted unanimously to hire seven additional pretrial employees at a cost of about $200,000 for the rest of the fiscal year. That includes three new personal recognizance bond compliance officers to cut into the 300 cases each of the others are currently handling.

Perez said the hiring was expected though, and the county is on track to realize the long-term goals of reducing criminal justice and jail costs.

“The fact that we spend $70 million on the jail, $23 million on the judiciary, we’re looking at $100 million that we spend,” Perez said. “It’s the single largest expenditure that we have as the county.”

Commissioner Andrew Haggerty said he’s not opposed to pretrial services overall and keeping low risk offenders out of jail, but objects to it being hailed as a savings measure while more is still being spent on the department itself.

“We’re talking about it like ‘Oh, we’re saving all this money for the county,’ while we’re possibly not saving money,” Haggerty said. We’re spending a lot more than we’re saving. But what we’re doing is getting people out of jail, keeping people in their jobs, and keeping people with their families, and that’s what we need to be
worried about.”

While the extra staff approved Monday are accounted for in the budget for the 2016 fiscal year, the full year salaries will have to be a part of next fiscal year’s full budget. In the meantime, more hiring is expected as well.

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