01STOCK_GAVEL_2

JANESVILLE

Rock County’s pretrial services program is brushing up against its capacity, but local officials are hopeful the court system will flow more smoothly after being slowed down because of COVID-19.

The program, which is less than a year old, has 152 participants as of Monday, a figure that was shared Thursday during a meeting of the county’s Evidence-Based Decision Making Committee.

Michael Gutjahr of JusticePoint, the group that runs the pretrial services program for Rock County, said Thursday that they have enough resources to handle 165 cases and perhaps a handful more.

As The Gazette reported previously, Rock County Court officials finished 31% fewer criminal cases in 2020 when compared to 2019. One judge theorized that not having jury trials meant there was one less incentive to finish cases in a timely manner.

In March, the county held its first jury trial in over a year.

Rock County Justice System Manager Elizabeth Pohlman McQuillen said the program started July 20 with two main goals: ensure defendants make it to their court appearances and don’t commit crimes while their cases are pending.

The appearance rate for defendants is 94.08%, according to data shared Thursday. She said that figure was “pretty good,” although it has been challenging to get a similar figure from before the program to compare it with.

A plurality of the active cases—70—are getting level 4 supervision, the most serious level offered. Level 3 has 25 active cases and level 2 has 57 (level 1 in the assessment effectively means little to no supervision).

Pohlman McQuillen explained, however, that pretrial services are not as stringent as the type of supervision that is seen on probation, for example. Pretrial means everyone is presumed innocent.

The program also looks more at short-term risks. The assessment doesn’t require an interview, whereas other programs that get more into matters such as substance addiction might.

Judge Karl Hanson said officials met Wednesday to talk about “trying to expedite the process,” such as hearing motions sooner. There’s still more work on that to come, though.

Nonetheless, as more cases are disposed of, that will free more space in pretrial services. Pohlman McQuillen said there was a period of time when none of the cases were closing out, it seemed.

She said she is working with others to get more information about pretrial services on the county’s website. This is the first program of its kind for Rock County, and she hopes that information can alleviate some confusion about how it works.

Services might include something like helping someone find transportation or housing. Officials can connect defendants with the right agencies to assist them, so in that respect it’s similar to case management.

Since the program is still relatively new, the committee and others are still working out matters such as its capacity.

Ultimately, Pohlman McQuillen said it’s one option for judges and court commissioners to consider. They can see what level the assessment suggests and make their own decision.

“This is a tool that is used to help decision making,” she said.

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