Crucial court services could end without further funding

Sobriety monitoring and other services considered crucial for many defendants awaiting trial in Pitkin County will continue only through the end of the year if no other funding is found.

That’s the message delivered to Pitkin County commissioners earlier this week by 9th Judicial District Chief Judge James Boyd and other criminal justice system officials, who provided fair warning that they’ll be asking for money for the program in the near future.

However, Boyd also outlined a pilot program he helped start two years ago in Garfield County that provides the type of pretrial services now in jeopardy in Pitkin County. That program assesses inmates in the Garfield County Jail and provides judges with “critical information for bond decisions,” according to a memo from Pitkin County Jail Administrator Don Bird to commissioners.

In other words, the assessment looks at the type of offense committed, how likely a defendant is to appear for future court dates and other information that might allow a low-level offender to get out of jail, continue supporting a family and retain a job, according to Boyd and other officials who appeared Tuesday before commissioners.

The pilot program also has started a court date reminder system in which defendants receive a call reminding them of the day they’re supposed to appear in court. That has led to a 55 percent reduction in defendants failing to come to court, which reduces costs associated with tracking them down and punishing them for not appearing, said Will Sightler, chief probation officer for the 9th Judicial District.

That program is being expanded to include pretrial supervision, drug testing and other services, according to Bird’s memo.

The pilot program was funded by Garfield County, which initially authorized one full-time person to run it, Boyd said. Now three employees work for the program, he said.

Pitkin County started a similar program in the early 2000s in County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely’s court, Bird said. Former District Judge Gail Nichols also adopted the program, which was run by a therapist who worked for a local drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation agency, he said.

That therapist would sit in court and report to the judges about how a defendant was doing in terms of sobriety monitoring and other court-ordered conditions, Bird said. That system is basically the same today, he said.

The problem has been that no one funds that work, and the rehab agencies must absorb the cost, Bird said. The current rehab agency, Mind Springs, receives no compensation for providing those services, he said.

Tony Passariello, Mind Springs program director in Aspen, said the case manager who currently monitors defendants out of jail on pretrial, court-ordered conditions and reports back to judges is needed elsewhere. Mind Springs has committed to providing the services until the end of the year, but it cannot do so beyond that unless it receives compensation, Passariello said.

Elizabeth Stewart, who runs the Garfield County pilot program, said it would cost about $80,000 to get the program up and running in Pitkin County, which would include compensating Mind Springs. The current three Garfield County employees could likely help out in assessing Pitkin County defendants via Skype for judges here, she said.

A study of the Garfield County Jail population found that half the population were low-level offenders who couldn’t afford to bond out of jail, Stewart said.

“The idea is to get them out and working,” she said.

Commissioners were receptive to the idea of funding the program and asked Boyd and the other officials to bring more information when they come back with a funding request.


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