Pretrial release program proposed for QA
CENTREVILLE — Queen Anne’s County Department of Corrections Warden LaMonte E. Cooke organized a June 15, meeting of judges, police, social services and local government officials to learn from other counties’ successes in decreasing the number of people jailed while awaiting trial on non-violent offenses. The Pretrial Release Program is an alternative to incarceration for individuals pending trial, that has been used in other counties around the state.
State’s Attorney Lance G. Richardson, who attended the meeting, said, “I believe this program would be a viable alternative for certain defendants. Our local detention center is over capacity, and if we have sufficient safeguards in place for nonviolent offenders, this pre-trial option could potentially alleviate overcrowding and ensure that defendants appear in court. I’m always open to new ideas and innovative solutions. Just because we have always done things a certain way doesn’t mean that there isn’t a better way out there.”
Queen Anne’s County District Court Judge Frank M. Kratovil Jr., who was also in attendance, concurred, “This (Pretrial Release Program) is a good option for low risk people charged with a crime. I’m all for it.”
Pretrial Release Programs have been effectively used in Anne Arundel, St. Mary’s and Prince George’s counties. Maryland’s Attorney General Brian E. Frosh has said, “Hundreds of low risk individuals are detained each day in Maryland jails because they are poor and unable to make bail while high-risk defendants are able to post bail, be released, and are free to commit violent crimes. Not only is this unfair and unsafe, it may also be unconstitutional.”
Maryland’s Court of Appeals in February adopted a landmark rule aimed at ending the practice of holding criminal defendants in jail while awaiting trial only because they cannot afford bail. The ruling instructs judges and court commissioners to first look for other ways to ensure that the defendant appears in court for the trial date. This rule goes into effect on July 1.
“Due to the increase in population trends in the Queen Anne’s County Detention Center recently, we need to look at options to manage incarcerated individuals and minimize instances of security issues and maintain both staff and public safety,” Cooke said to those gathered.
“Under this proposed program, eligible individuals in pretrial status would be screened by trained staff and authorized by the courts for release in the community under one of four levels of supervision, pending their case disposition. They would not be awaiting trial in the Detention Center, which may be weeks or months away, allowing these individuals to maintain employment, access various treatment services including medical, mental health, drug; educational, court ordered directions, counseling, etc. There are more aspects of such a program and we wanted all of the agencies that we interact with along with county government to be aware of what is involved before we move for ward.”
Superintendent Terry Kokolis, of the Anne Arundel County Department of Detention Facilities, and Margo Knight, assistant facility administrator, who manages that agency’s pretrial program, gave an overview of how this program works in Anne Arundel County.
“They will also be assisting us in developing our county program and assisting in training the assigned staff, as they have with other programs in Maryland,” Cooke said.
Kokolis said that with the pretrial program they have in place, those charged with non-violent crimes and released pending trial show up to court farm more often, greatly reducing the number of those charged with failure to appear. As part of the pretrial supervision of his staff, those with court dates are reminded and the numbers of those failing to appear decrease by 90 percent.
Following the meeting, Cooke said, “We will be working on development of the local program including the writing of guidelines, levels of supervision, staffing development and training; coordination with the courts, Public Defender’s Office, and the State’s Attorney’s Office; and looking at sharing of information as needed with other public safety agencies.”
Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Mark Anderson said, “This system offers additional oversight to impact behavior changes by keeping non-violent offenders out of contact with more violent offenders with substantial crimes committed. Also there is a useful aspect to provide early treatment for behavior problems.”