Release program lowering Mo. jail population, inmate housing costs

The county launched a pretrial release program in March 2017 that identifies low-offense inmates who, instead of being kept in jail, are released and monitored as they move through the legal steps

By Tyler Wornell
The Joplin Globe

CARTHAGE, Mo. — A program to release pretrial inmates at the Jasper County Jail is helping to lower the daily jail population and avoid costs of housing inmates.

The county launched a pretrial release program in March 2017 that identifies low-offense inmates who, instead of being kept in jail, are released and monitored as they move through the legal steps. The intent is to provide resources and services to offenders quicker, reducing recidivism and managing the jail population.

So far court officials say the program has done its job: 46 percent of the jail's population is pretrial inmates, lower than the national average of 60 percent.

Offenders who are selected for pretrial release are done so through an assessment conducted by Larry Stout, the county's pretrial release officer. With every assessment, Stout scores the offender and provides a report to the judge, who makes a final determination.

"I tell them, 'my job is to get you out to stay out,'" Stout said. "We use the assessment to find them the services that is best going to help them, which can be something as simple as getting an ID."

Stout said he's seen plenty of offenders get their lives back on track through the program, such as an 18-year-old girl who was arrested and charged with tampering with a motor vehicle. A day after getting released, she had already taken steps to get enrolled in night and online classes to finish high school.

"If she had sat in jail, who knows what would have happened to her," Stout said. "With this program, they have someone on their team now who is helping them go through the system."

The county has released 343 people through the program, 150 of which are currently being monitored. The rest have all had their cases fully adjudicated.

Aside from helping the inmates, the program has also provided benefits for the county jail and judges. Stout said pretrial release gives judges another option, and the county has seen an estimated "cost avoidance" of $1.8 million by not having to house the inmates.

Sheriff Randee Kaiser said the program has been a huge help in managing the jail population, which has significantly increased this year.

"Our average daily population for this year will be in the 220s or 230s, and it's been increasing for a number of years now," Kaiser said. "It would be even worse than it is now if it wasn't for this program, and we would have an average daily population that would be, frankly, difficult to manage."

The program has also been able to help inmates who have mental illnesses. Court Administrator Erik Theis said that since March of this year, 153 people in the county jail have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Those who are released through the pretrial program are given the appropriate treatment and other services such as housing.

Kaiser said he'd like the county to start discussions on building a residential treatment center at the jail to treat inmates while they're incarcerated, either for mental health issues or drug addictions. He said it's been effective on the state level and there's no reason it couldn't be done here.

"You can do it here on the local level a lot cheaper, and you have greater results at the end of the day when you put someone back out in the community that no longer has an addiction," Kaiser said. "I think the community would support it, because I think Jasper County understands the complexities of what our situation is with regards to our jail and also the issues we have with people that are addicted."

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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