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After First Year, Pretrial Services Helping Lower County Jail Population

The number of people housed in the Cuyahoga County Jail continues to go down as improvements to the bail system across the county are implemented, according to members of the Criminal Justice Council.

But advocates for bail reform and improved jail conditions say there’s still work to be done.

The Cleveland Municipal Court has ordered pretrial services for 1,237 misdemeanor defendants, said Administrative and Presiding Judge Michelle Earley at Tuesday’s council meeting. Another 109 who are not eligible for the program are awaiting trial in the county jail. That determination comes after a risk assessment, which allows for the release of many nonviolent offenders under certain conditions, including device monitoring or court supervision.

“We have to be mindful that just defaulting to releasing everyone doesn’t put someone in a bad position, because then we’ll be back here at the meeting talking about how we put the community at risk,” Earley said.

As of December 2019, 94 percent of defendants assigned pretrial services were compliant with those orders, Earley said. That’s up three percentage points from a report delivered in October.

“It’s not perfect.” Earley said. “Do we have a hundred percent success rate? No. But the success rate that we’re experiencing is significant.”

Since the program’s implementation roughly a year ago, Earley said, failure to appear rates have dropped from 42 percent to 19 percent. The Pretrial Services Department plans to continue the program and keep improving those rates, Earley said.

“We’re going to go back and refine some processes, and in addition to that, provide some resources, some wraparound services of our own,” she said.

Those wraparound services could include diversion centers for people in need of mental health or addiction treatment, as well as a central booking area. County officials say a request for proposals is out for the central booking area, which would require renovating the county justice building.

Representatives from The Bail Project, a nonprofit that connects offenders with bail and other resources, said the county still needs improvements to its wraparound services for inmates and offenders. The Bail Project is meeting with county officials in the next few weeks to discuss expanding access.

The number of people complying with pretrial services doesn’t include content on the methods the court is using, said Anthony Body, a bail advocate with the nonprofit.

“We see this high influx of individuals that are now on electronic monitoring, so how does that directly impact folks’ lives?” Body said. “Is that just another illusion of freedom, or are we truly allowing people to rehabilitate themselves?”

Eighty percent of defendants ordered to partake in pretrial services were monitored with electronic devices.

Tuesday’s council meeting marked the first since the end of Judge John Russo’s term as administrative and presiding judge of Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, replaced by Judge Brendan Sheehan. Russo declined to attend the meeting to go over a report he released on the performance of a bail reform task force, Sheehan said.

The Criminal Justice Council meets again in April.


This story has been updated to clarify bail reform efforts at the city and county levels.

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