When the legislature passes criminal laws (and, let’s be fair, when citizens break those laws), it creates a cost to local government. To deal with some of those costs, Delaware County is considering a program for non-violent offenders that will get take them out of jail and put them on probation. So far this year, Delaware County has spent $345,000 housing inmates outside of its jail because there was not enough room. So, the county is considering putting inmates awaiting trial on C & D level felony charges on a probation-like program.
The terms of pre-trial probation are still a work in progress, Vorhees said.
The probationers would likely report to their probation officers daily in the weeks after their release with reporting requirements tapering as time passed.
“It’s going to be a pretty intensive situation for them,” Vorhees said.
Those on probation would be subject to drug screens and would be required to enter counseling if they have addiction problems.
Anyone who violates the terms of probation or is arrested again would return to jail.
However, probation is not without its costs. The Journal & Courier reports on the Tippecanoe County probation department’s request for seven new positions. These new employees are necessary to monitor compliance with the terms of probation. The article on the proposed Delaware County program suggests that the costs would be offset by user fees. But, a lot of probation fees go unpaid, and the cost of re-incarcerating the individual for a probation violation is more than the unpaid fees. (Leaving aside, for a moment, the specter of debtor’s prisons).
Just an aside here – as I wrote this, my intent was a focus on the expense to local government imposed by decisions made by state officials – but the more I think about “pre-trial probation,” the more it bothers me; and maybe it stems from lack of a clear understanding of the criminal law. Pre-trial detainees have not been convicted of anything. They’re innocent until proven guilty. However, bail can still be required to ensure their appearance at trial and based on the danger the accused poses to the community. I believe the pre-trial detainees eligible for this pre-trial probation department would be those eligible for bail but unable or unwilling to post the bond. Letting them out, even with frequent monitoring, seems to be an admission that they aren’t that great of a flight risk and not a danger to the community — which raises the question, was bail appropriate in the first place?