Meck Co. will be part of pilot program to help 'low-risk' arrestees

by: Mark Becker Updated:

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. —

More arrestees may be getting out of Mecklenburg County’s jails sooner and the leaders of the county’s justice system say if the research is accurate, it will make the community safer.

Mecklenburg County is one of four communities around the country that will be part of a pilot program to test the research done by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation based in Houston.

The program uses a nine-point screening system to determine which arrestees are “low-risk” to miss court or repeat their crimes, and suggests that releasing them as soon as possible makes them less likely to be repeat offenders.

Offenders like “Michael," which is not his real name, who spent several weeks in jail because he couldn’t make a $1,500 bond on a larceny charge.
               
“I lost my job,” Michael said, and he told Eyewitness News he had to start over after he was released after finally going to court and being given credit for the time he’d already served in jail.
               
A consultant for the Foundation outlined the research for Mecklenburg County’s criminal justice leaders, telling them that keeping low risk inmates in jail longer makes them more likely to repeat crimes, and that the screening process will allow them to get bond hearings when they make their first appearances.
               
That screening information would go to district court judges who would use it to decide if they should reduce or even unsecure bonds of low-risk inmates.
               
“I think judges make good decisions when they have as much information as possible,” said Chief District Court Judge Reagan Miller.
              
 But some wonder if the program is pushing too much, too fast.
               
“The proof’s in the pudding,” said Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray. 
               
“We certainly have to review it and spend some time to see if the tool is going to work for us in Mecklenburg County,” Murray said.
               
That timeline will be short. The plan is to begin the new assessments and bond hearings in May. For more information about the program, click here.