HELENA – Lewis and Clark County leaders say they are just weeks away from launching new pretrial services, intended to help reduce the number of people in the overcrowded county detention center.
Under the new program, employees with the state Office of the Court Administrator will evaluate people when they are arrested. Those evaluations will be used to give judges a better idea of whether someone can be safely released before their trial.
Kellie McBride, the county’s director of restorative justice and court systems, said two new pretrial officers could be hired as soon as next week. Once they are in place, she said the county will be immediately able to start offering the new services.
“They’ll be able to just come in and get going,” said McBride.
The pretrial officers will be certified probation and parole officers and will be responsible for helping make sure offenders meet the conditions of their pretrial release, such as making court appearances, undergoing drug tests or wearing alcohol monitors. McBride said the county has received 19 applications for the two open positions.
“It’s a great pool of candidates,” she said.
Once the pretrial officers are chosen, they will work out of offices at the Our Place drop-in center on Last Chance Gulch.
The pretrial program is one of a number of new diversion programs that will be funded by a 15-year jail operations levy county voters approved last year. The levy will raise about $4 million a year, with $725,000 going toward services intended to keep people out of jail.
Most of the programs will not be implemented until July, when the tax revenue from the levy starts to come in. However, the state judicial branch selected Lewis and Clark County as one of five counties in Montana to start pretrial services as a pilot program. The Office of Court Administrator has offered a $130,000 grant to help the county launch the program starting in March.
The Lewis and Clark County Commission will consider the state grant at their regular meeting Thursday morning.
McBride said being part of the pilot project will give Lewis and Clark County flexibility to adjust the program once leaders have a better idea of what is needed.
“This is a great opportunity for our county to really implement a great program – what we see is a great program across the United States – but make it ours,” she said.
McBride said she’s honored to be part of the county’s restorative justice efforts, and excited about the possibilities.
“Research shows that for every night that someone spends in jail, their propensity to reoffend goes up,” she said. “I definitely don’t want anybody reoffending.”