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Olmsted gets national award for program to reduce pre-conviction jail time

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) - Olmsted County was the recipient of the National Association of Counties (NACo) 2021 Achievement Awards for establishing the Pretrial Release Program.

The program has reduced pre-conviction jail time for certain criminal offenders. It launched in 2019.

"We have a lot of people sitting in the jail. That, if we could provide another alternative to ensure that they come back to court and that our community stays safe, they don't need to be sitting in the jail."

Mark Ostrem, Olmsted County Attorney, says a risk assessment is done to determine which individuals would be good candidates for the program.

"One factor is always, what is the criminal charge that they are appearing for today? What is their past criminal history if they have any? They score points for that. Have they had a history of warrants where they didn't show up for court? Are there any warrants out there?" he said.

As well as home life factors.

"Do they have a home here? Are they connected to family here in town? Various things like that," Ostrem said.

He said there are people who automatically are not eligible for this program.

"People who have an extensive criminal history. I do mean extensive. Or those people who have committed violent offenses. So anything involving a weapon, pretty much, off the table. Serious sex offenses. In fact, pretty much any sex offense, off the table," Ostrem said.

People who are charged with an offense that would automatically send them to prison are also ineligible.

Ostrem said hundreds of people countywide have been through the program.

"We are seeing a very significant amount of reduction of bail being posted because these people are being connected with the pretrial services team," he said. "And we are also seeing a reduction in the ongoing criminal conduct in the pendency of that case."

He said it's also increased the number of people who make it to their scheduled court dates.

Ostrem wants people to be assured that criminal offenders will deal with the consequences of their actions, but the program is about helping them improve their lives in the process.

"In the initial appearance often times these people are kind of "walking free." They're not. But we're just being very mindful of the balance between keeping our community safe, and all these awful things that make it so hard for people to actually get habilitated back to being a good community member. And so, the loss of jobs. The loss of relationships can be insurmountable for people to recover from. So if we can prevent that, we can often have a good resolution of the case. And make them good productive citizens moving forward," he said.

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KaMaria Braye

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