May 27, 2014 8:38 PM by Andy Koen
PUEBLO - The criminal justice system in Pueblo County is changing the way decisions are made about who stays in jail and who gets released before going to trial. It's called pre-trial services and the change promises to ease overcrowding at the Pueblo County Jail, at least in the short term.
Courts in the 10th Judicial District have begun using what's known as the Colorado Pre-trial Assessment Tool (C-PAT) when determining how to set bail. The matrix uses criminal justice data to give a percentage prediction of a suspect's risk of re-offending if released.
The goal is to keep higher risk offenders behind bars, and let lower-risk offenders go home under supervision.
"The byproduct of pre-trial services, once we get it up and running and all the pieces implemented, I think we'll see a decrease in the population at the jail," said Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor.
At one point last year, Taylor said the jail was above capacity by 150 inmates. Many were low-risk offenders but couldn't afford to post bail.
Keeping that many people incarcerated cost as tax payers in Pueblo an extra $584,970 in overtime in just maintain the proper number of deputies on shifts.
Sheriff Taylor said another problem exists once inmates are convicted. Both of Pueblo's community corrections facilities (halfway houses) closed within a 7 month period last year.
"We had a window here in Pueblo where we didn't have any community corrections and so the judges had no choice but to sentence them to the county jail," Taylor said.
A vendor named Interventions Inc. won a contract in November to operate in the former Community Corrections Services Inc. facility. County commissioners did not renew the contract for Minnequa Community Corrections and a new vendor has not yet been approved leaving a shortage of beds in the community.
Sheriff Taylor said many of those convicts, especially women, end up serving sentences in jail.
Releasing a greater number of low-risk inmate will require off-site monitoring. An advisory panel lead by 10th Judicial District Court Chief Judge Deborah Eyler is working with the Taylor, County Commissioner Terry Hart, as well as prosecutors and defense attorneys to determine the best way to oversee the off-site monitoring of those low-risk offenders.
Another change deals more directly with the C-PAT evaluations. Uniformed deputies currently interview inmates to make referrals to the courts about risk assessment. The sheriff and the advisory panel believe suspects will be more forthcoming if that role is taken over by members of the county's community corrections department.