- Associated Press - Sunday, September 17, 2017

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) - Mesa County’s pretrial services program has been seen as a state and national model in reducing jail overcrowding since its creation in 1989. But rising crime and the outcome of a pending sales tax vote could strain the program’s offerings.

The Grand Junction Sentinel reports (https://bit.ly/2yhARXR) that he program helps judges decide who should be kept in jail before court appearances and who can be trusted to be released and show up in court.

Doing so requires interviewing everyone facing possible jail time - a labor-intensive effort that could intensify if Mesa County voters approve a 0.37 percent sales tax hike. The tax hike is designed to increase resources for the sheriff’s department and the district attorney. That could add more people in the county’s overcrowded jail, boosting pretrial services’ workload, the newspaper said.

And if voters reject the tax, Mesa County commissioners might have to look at budget cuts that could affect pretrial services, said District Attorney Dan Rubinstein.

Responding to an increase in crime in recent years, Colorado legislators created an interim committee to examine jail overcrowding. The panel is examining possible changes in state law on alternative sentencing, probation and parole.

Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese told committee at its first meeting in July that personnel changes - including a new sheriff, district attorney and judges - have diminished the program’s efficiency.

“We have a new district judge who doesn’t believe in the program, and so more people are staying in jail than they were before,” Pugliese said. “The new sheriff is saying that everyone in jail has got a high propensity for violence and cannot be let out on the streets. The majority of our (jail) population is pretrial.”

Local judges failed to sentence defendants to a county work-release program, aggravating the problem, Pugliese said.

Pretrial services programs are not a panacea, Dan Hotsenpiller, district attorney for the 7th Judicial District, which includes Delta and Montrose counties, told the panel in August.

“You can look at Mesa County that has a very good pretrial services (program) and yet is facing now for the first time in a while some significant overcrowding challenges,” Hotsenpiller said. “We would love to have viable, effective pretrial services.”

Steve Chinn, who supervises the pretrial services program, said interviews he and eight staff members conduct have increased over the past year. Judges use the interviews and assessments to help decide which defendants can be released and which remain in custody.

“When we talk about the interviews going up, that means that many more people are being arrested,” Chinn said. “There’s just that much more going on.”


Information from: The Daily Sentinel, https://www.gjsentinel.com

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