Ada County Sheriff

The ACSO is heading into final phase of the MacArthur Foundation's Safety and Justice grant - Ada County Sheriff

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The ACSO is heading into final phase of the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice grant

The Ada County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge for their support in our combined effort to reduce our jail population.

We are headed into the final phase of the MacArthur Foundation’s $1 million grant Ada County received in October 2017.

Our shared goal with the foundation is to reduce Ada County’s jail population by 15%-to-19%. Since October 2017, we’ve been able to reduce our jail population by 2%.

A better metric, perhaps, is how we’ve been able to reduce the jail population by 6% since early 2018, which was after we were able to use MacArthur funding to hire people for key positions in Ada County’s criminal justice system.

Still, 6% is not 15% – or 19%. Trying to reduce our jail population in a metro area with a booming general population — and an overtaxed state prison system that has put significant stress on Ada County’s criminal justice system — makes for a daunting and difficult task.

The good news is that with all the lessons learned and structural changes to the justice system our Ada County multi-agency work group made over the last four years, we are moving in the right direction.

The strategies the group implemented have shown results. For instance, we ran a trial period where people charged with a select group of low-level and non-violent traffic misdemeanors — like not having a valid drivers license, insurance, or driving without privileges — were released on their own recognizance (ROR) instead of being booked in to jail, resulting in 65 people avoiding jail time.

We hoped for better numbers but most people charged with those crimes were charged with other crimes that didn’t allow an ROR.

Our jail sweep program has shown promise. Jail staff, prosecutors, and public defenders review the jail roster weekly and identify people who have been in jail too long in relation to their non-violent misdemeanor charges — and can’t afford the bond to be released.

That “Jail sweep” group works to get those cases resolved as soon as possible and get those people out of jail. Since 2016, they’ve found and then expedited the release of 71 inmates, saving a total of 1,804 jail days if those inmates would have been left in custody – 1,804 days Ada County taxpayers didn’t have to pay for.

Our work group created a text-notification system to remind people not to miss court dates – and reduce failure to appear (FTA) charges when people miss those court dates — which happens a lot.

While it didn’t create the impact we’d hoped it would at first, it did have some effect.

Our data shows that people charged with new crimes signed received notifications on 14.8% of hearings since August 2018.

That means out of 53,974 hearings, people signed up to be notified for 7,981 of those.

The people who did sign up had an FTA rate of 6.6 – meaning they didn’t show up 528 times out of 7,981 hearings. The FTA rate for people who didn’t sign up for the service was 8.0, meaning they didn’t show up 3690 times for 45,993 hearings.

What that means is for those people who signed up for service and used it had a 17% reduction in failure to appear.

So the people who did sign up for text notification were more likely to show up for court than those who didn’t. Our challenge now is to get more people with pending court dates to sign up.

If you have a court date — or know someone who does — please sign up  The service is free, and it will help you avoid further trouble.

Another benefit of the Safety and Justice Challenge grant was it allowed our group to work on a pretrial risk assessment tool (IPRAI), which we began using in February.

Our Pretrial Services staff does a risk assessment for each new inmate booked into the jail. The assessment examines inmate’s previous criminal history and other factors, like current employment and history of drug use.

It then creates a score to assess how likely that inmate would be to commit a new crime, get arrested again, or not show up for court if they are released from jail while their cases go through the court system.

The IPRAI report is then given to the judge, prosecutor, and inmate’s defense attorney before the inmate makes their first court appearance.

The judge can use the IPRAI report to help them determine which inmates can be safely released and what conditions will need to be imposed. The hope is the IPRAI can eventually give judges and inmates a fairer and safer option than cash bail — one that relies on assessing the risk to the community instead of how much money someone has.

Another benefit gained during the Safety and Justice partnership is we have a better understanding of our environment better than we have in the past.

They’ve helped us figure out why, if local law enforcement’s arrest rate has been trending down since 2015, our jail population hasn’t gone down by the same rate.

In 2015, we had 15,663 people booked into the jail. The average length of stay was 38 days. In 2018, we had 14,884 people booked into the jail. The average length of stay was 45 days.

Stats show less people are being booked into the jail every year since 2015. They also show the average length of stay for people who are in the jail keeps increasing. So why is that?

Because the court calendars of the 4th Judicial District are so packed, cases just take longer to move through the system.

If inmates can’t afford bail, or are deemed by a judge to be a safety risk to our community, or wait longer than usual for their cases to move through a clogged court calendar, or have to wait for a pre-sentence report to get done — or any of dozens of other reasons — they stay in jail.

In addition, we have more Idaho Department of Correction inmates parked in our facility than ever before.

These are inmates who have been arrested on parole violations or have been convicted of crimes in the 4th District Court and are waiting to be assigned to an IDOC facility.

The problem is IDOC doesn’t really have anywhere to put ‘em.

In 2015, those IDOC inmates made up about 14% of our jail population. So far, in 2019, those inmates make up about 24% of our population.

(For instance, we had 86 inmates in our jail on Friday with a judgment of conviction, which means they are just waiting for assignment to an IDOC facility. We had another 190 IDOC parole violators. That’s a total of 276. We have a total of 1024 inmates in our jail today, so those 276 IDOC inmates are 27% of our jail population.)

If the IDOC were able to place all their inmates in IDOC facilities, we would have met our 15% reduction goal with no problem. Instead, we have more inmates than ever.

While we’ve had discussions with IDOC officials on ways to relieve this burden on Ada County, any fix on their end is a long way off, as they don’t have any empty beds.

Other ideas our work group has discussed, like creating a “failure to appear” specialty court; having evening court hours to provide time options for people who pile up the FTAs; and increasing transportation options for people who to struggle to get to court on time didn’t prove feasible at this point in time. The group is still working on a way to introduce those ideas into our court system.

The Safety and Justice grant ultimately paid for seven new employees in Ada County’s criminal justice system, including a new case manager for the public defenders office; three employees for the pretrial program that do the IPRAI assessments; a court clerk to run the text notification system; and a data analyst and program manager, who both work for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office.

Our hope is when the MacArthur funding is finished we will be able to keep those employees, who will be able to fill open positions in their agencies and keep the progress in motion.

That’s where were at right now. We will keep you updated on our progress.

The reason we’ve been able to do so much work on this is because of the support from the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge. Check out the Safety and Justice Challenge site if you’d like to learn more about what the work they are doing across the country.