- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2000

By Harold Brazil
There has been much media coverage in recent months about violent people escaping from halfway houses. These stories are confusing and frightening. Officials in the justice system in Washington have been working on this issue and have made much progress. They have focused their efforts on pretrial defendants who are sent to the halfway house called Center 4.
At Center 4, there are now twice as many staff members as there were a few months ago, including case manager and supervisory personnel. Now, when a defendant walks away from a halfway house, or misses a curfew, the court issues an arrest warrant, usually that same day or within 24 hours. That process used to take almost a week. Most of those defendants are now rearrested or returned to the halfway house within a short time. These are just some improvements made in recent months.
However, the community remains concerned about its safety. The justice agencies and the Councils of the District of Columbia are committed to solving this problem and restoring a sense of security in our neighborhoods. On Sept. 20, I held a hearing to consider various methods of reforming the pretrial system. We do not want to respond impulsively to this problem. On the other hand, we do want to address the community's concerns.
Under the current system, if you are arrested, you are taken before a judge usually within 24 hours. The prosecutors may ask the judge to detain you until your trial. For that to happen, the prosecutor has to convince the judge, by clear and convincing evidence, that you are a threat to the community or that you are likely to flee. When considering whether to detain you, the judge will consider many factors including the criminal charge, a prior criminal record, your job, your ties to the community and drug tests. Depending on the facts presented, the judge may put you in jail until trial. The cost to the district would be approximately $104 per day.
Or the judge may decide to order your release with some degree of supervision. A halfway house is one form of supervision. The cost to the District would be approximately $52 per day. You may be allowed to leave the halfway house to look for work, attend school, or for other reasons the judge approves. You have to submit to drug testing. A job monitor may check on you at work.
This "residential supervision" is intended to be the most restrictive form of supervision. Several other proposals have been submitted to the Council. One suggests that the judge should not be allowed to send anyone who is charged with a violent crime to a halfway house. This is called "charge-based exclusion." If you do not send people to halfway houses, they cannot escape from them. Sounds reasonable. But some experts say that "charge-based exclusions" have the impact we are trying to avoid.
"Charge-based exclusions" mean that if the judge is not persuaded that the person must be locked-up, the judge will be required to release the individual back into the community. A residential supervision option will no longer be available.
Another proposal would allow a judge to impose money bonds that are high enough to keep people locked up before their trial. This system currently exists in other jurisdictions and once existed in the District. It is problematic, however, because the most "successful" criminals are the ones who can afford to buy their way out of jail. As a result, these criminals are on the streets with no supervision until their trials. Our system is modeled on the federal system and is considered a "best practice" because justice is not tied to money.
Others ideas and proposals are being considered, including electronic monitoring and day reporting centers. These tolls, along with a residential supervision program, may be the arsenal required to manage a population of pretrial defendants who cannot be held in jail until their trials.
The Council is eager to hear from people in the community. We want our citizens to feel safe on their streets and in their homes, but we also want to be deliberate and thoughtful in our reforms.

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