Winona County leaders will soon ponder a program that could help keep low level offenders out of jail. If implemented, the project could save much in county funds currently spent when jail beds are filled and new inmates must be sent to neighboring facilities.
Called "Pretrial Services," the program would allow people who have been arrested, but not convicted, and who cannot make bail, to return home under some type of monitored release. That could mean ankle devices that keep track of an offender who is not supposed to leave home other than trips to work, or new GPS devices that do the same.
"They're sort of caught up in the in-between of our judicial system and they end up in our jail," said Winona County Administrator Duane Hebert of the types of offenders who would be eligible for the program. He said a large percentage of inmates housed in the county jail could take advantage of the program—people with jobs, homes, and families, but without the financial means to post bail for traditional release. Often these inmates are allowed work release, he said, adding, "If they're safe enough to be out in the community for work, what are they doing in the jail?"
The county budgets $230,000 in expenses each year to send offenders to other jails when the Winona County facility is full. Hebert explained that if the pretrial services program was implemented, it would free up space in the jail and reduce the need to send overflow inmates outside the county.
The program would require some funding up front. Hebert said a coordinator would be needed to organize the effort. Winona County Attorney Karin Sonneman said some of the resources needed for pretrial services could come from other similar criminal justice efforts, such as home checks done for offenders enrolled in the new county drug court. The employees conducting those checks could also keep an eye on inmates who are on release through the pretrial services program.
The Winona County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is expected to bring the pretrial services proposal to the County Board in the coming weeks. Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this story.