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Cass County pretrial program 'balances opportunity with accountability'

Kirsten Adair, Pharos-Tribune, Logansport, Ind.

Mar. 7—Cass County Court and Pretrial Services might be unfamiliar to some residents. However, those involved in the program work hard to keep people out of jail and ensure that anyone arrested in Cass County understands all the options available to them.

CCCPS Director Hillary Hartoin said she is up early to speak with every new jail inmate before their pretrial hearing. While the initial hearing process can take some courts up to eight weeks, Hartoin said Cass County inmates are usually seen and heard at pretrial hearings within 48 hours of their arrest.

“It allows people to get back to their families and jobs,” she said.

Hartoin specified that getting people through that process more quickly creates fewer disruptions to families and can make a difference in someone keeping their job after being arrested.

“We want to reserve jail resources for people who are a danger to the community,” she said.

Hartoin then writes a report before each batch of pretrial hearings. She specifies which inmates are eligible for pretrial release, which inmates are recommended or not recommended to participate in the program, and the reasoning behind each of those recommendations.

Pretrial release terms vary for each inmate, but there are certain rules that apply to all defendants in the pretrial release program. Defendants in the program must check in with a caseworker at predetermined times, where they will give updates on their status and can receive help with certain things like applying to jobs, seeking counseling or getting health benefits.

“Pretrial services can be whatever the defendant wants it to be,” she said. “We really try to ensure someone’s lasting success.”

Defendants are required to make all their court appearances, not commit any new crimes, submit to random drug testing and potentially allow electronic monitoring of their location.

A jail inmate’s eligibility for the program depends on the results of a test called the IRAS-PAT. The IRAS-PAT measures an inmate’s risk of failing to appear for subsequent trials or reoffending, as well as prior criminal history, employment, living arrangements and substance abuse.

If an inmate is eligible and chooses to enter pretrial release program, they work with their caseworker to meet the program requirements. Hartoin said she started with about 10 cases per week. Now, she and one other CCCPS caseworker each handle about 35 to 40 cases every week.

“There were people who, if they had the chance to be in programs sooner, it would have made a difference in their rehabilitation,” said CCCPS Supervising Judge Lisa Swaim. “This program does that.”

Besides allowing defendants to spend time outside jail, CCCPS also provides defendants with a variety of resources. Hartoin said there are consequences like increased supervision if a defendant breaks the rules, but the program is meant to help defendants be successful after they are released from the program.

“There is always a response,” Swaim said about defendants breaking the program’s rules. “(The program) balances opportunity with accountability.”

Swaim said consequences can range from more frequent check-ins with a caseworker to incarceration. However, less than 20% of defendants in the program violate the rules.

Despite small beginnings in 2018, the program has seen impressive results. Hartoin said CCCPS is one of two pretrial services in the state that have grown into their own departments.

In terms of financial benefits, the program has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in incarceration costs. The 2022 Court and Pretrial Services Annual Report determined that the cost to house one adult inmate in the Cass County Jail was about $40 per day in 2021. In comparison, it cost about $4.29 per day to help an adult in the pretrial program.

Pretrial release has also helped control the jail population. The Cass County Jail still faced overcrowding in 2021, but pretrial release helped create more space and reduced the strain on jail resources.

If defendants who participated in pretrial release were housed in the jail in January 2021, the jail population would have reached 253 instead of 190. A spike in incarcerations during June would have boosted the jail population to 293 instead of 231. The jail had an overall capacity of only 176 inmates.

Perhaps the biggest impact pretrial release has made, however, is its contribution toward the defendants who utilize the program. The 2022 Court and Pretrial Services Annual Report shows that 96% of defendants in the pretrial release program attended all of their court hearings, and 91% were not charged with any new offenses during their pretrial period.

Additionally, Hartoin said that 86% of defendants in the pretrial release program receive no program violations during their supervision. She said the program is very data-driven, which helps her find areas where services can improve.

“You can’t know what you don’t measure,” she said. “We’re always reviewing our data and improving.”

Overall, Hartoin said she will keep striving to improve CCCPS and the pretrial release program as much as possible because they create a positive impact in Cass County.

“That’s ultimately why I do this, to help the community and make a difference in people’s lives,” Hartoin said. “Sometimes people just need someone to listen and know they care about them.”

Originally published in the Pharos Tribune on March 7, 2022.

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