The reaction to Franklin County’s pretrial release plan by the public hasn’t been much more than a whimper if our observations and hearing are tuned in to the general public.
The county commission has approved the plan with two goals in mind: Free up jail space so a costly addition to the jail won’t have to be made; and to provide a degree of fairness for those nonviolent offenders charged with minor crimes who are too poor to make bond.
A key to the plan is the hiring of a competent administrator who will make recommendations as to whom is released. The idea is to release from jail suspects who are charged with minor crimes and have no serious criminal history that would pose a threat to society. Suspects with a violent history and who pose a potential threat to society would not gain release.
It is hoped by officials that people held on traffic and ordinance violations that are minor offenses who have no past criminal record can be released while awaiting trial.
The program administrator will do background checks on inmates and will recommend who will be considered for release. A judge will make the final decision as to whom is released. It is expected that the administrator position will be part time. No one has been hired. The administrator will have an office in the old courthouse in downtown Union. Interviews with inmates will be at the jail. There will be no transporting of prisoners from the jail to the old courthouse.
What are the chances of the program working? Based on what has been learned from other counties that have a pretrial release program, success is anticipated.
There is no guarantee for complete success. A person granted early release may run. However, since those jail inmates will be ones charged with a minor offense, they would be fleeing from probably what would be a minor punishment.
We remember when the old and small jail in the county courthouse would become so crowded that a circuit judge and the sheriff would confer and allow some inmates to be freed for the weekend. The old jail had a history of receiving more suspects on weekends. As we remember, there were no serious problems.
Perhaps the public has accepted the program because it makes sense and they don’t want to face another bond issue for a jail addition. Most likely the reason for acceptance is that the public, generally speaking, has trust in the officials who will conduct the program. The county needs to be open with the public as to the success or failure of the program, that is, inform the public as to how the program is operating on a regular basis.
The program certainly is worth a try. The chances for success are favorable.