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Detention Center demands to be reduced

Lake County to participate in risk assessment pilot program for criminal defendants

Lake County has been chosen to participate in a pilot project aimed at reducing the demand on detention centers while ensuring criminal defendants make their court appearances. Lake County Chief Deputy Attorney James Lapotka says the 2017 Legislature established an evidence-based risk assessment program for managing defendants who are released awaiting trial.

As part of the program, Judges will have available to them a Public Safety Assessment, or PSA. Lapotka says “we’re going to be running a risk assessment tool on every single defendant who’s booked into the Lake County Jail to better inform the judges, prosecutors and the defense attorneys about how risky each defendant is, what the likelihood of them showing up for court and committing new crimes while their current case is pending. (This way) we can make better decisions about who should be in jail, who should be let out and when we do let people out of jail, what conditions should be placed upon them.”

The pilot project, which includes Missoula, Butte Silver-Bow, Yellowstone and Lewis and Clark Counties is funded with $800,000, according to Lapotka. He says Lake County’s share is $130,000. The project is slated to run through July 2019. Lapotka says after that time data will be collected and presented to the Montana State Legislature. If the data shows positive results the project could be extended to other counties and possibly across the state. Lapotka says the pretrial supervision program has proven successful in other western states and is catching on nationally.

The PSA, and the Montana pretrial supervision model was developed by a Montana team of prosecutors, public defenders, court officials and law enforcement personnel.

According to information provided by the Montana Judicial Branch and released to the media through the Lake County Attorney’s office, the PSA was created by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. It is considered to be the “gold standard” for aiding judges in making evidence-based decisions about release and release conditions.

More information about the PSA is available at: www.arnoldfoundation.org.

Lake County has been under pressure to deal with an overcrowded jail and lack of courtroom space for quite awhile. The courthouse was supposed to have been expanded when the second department of the 20th judicial district (Kim Christopher’s seat) was created by the state legislature. The late Judge CB McNeil issued an order directing the Lake County Commissioners to do so before he retired.

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