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County to save $400,000 annually with pretrial release

STORY BY GEORGE ANDREASSI (Week of January 6, 2022)

Indian River County anticipates saving $400,000 annually by retaining neighboring St. Lucie County’s Criminal Justice Division to supervise low-level defendants instead of locking them up in the county jail.

St. Lucie criminal justice administrators will set up an office with two pretrial officers in the Indian River County Courthouse by April 1, 2022 and oversee an average of 218 defendants per year.

“That’s our current target date, but we anticipate being able to deliver sooner than that,” said St. Lucie County Criminal Justice Director Joseph Cowan.

St. Lucie County started its pretrial program in 2007 and has supervised a total of 11,019 cases. Since then, St. Lucie County has provided pretrial services to neighboring counties in the 19th Judicial Circuit, adding Okeechobee County in 2015, then Martin County in 2018.

“Recently, Indian River approached us and asked us to do the same for them,” Cowan told St. Lucie County commissioners on Dec. 7.

The pretrial services include determining a defendant’s suitability for release on bail pending the disposition of their charges and monitoring Global Positioning Satellite devices attached to their legs.

The pretrial officers will verify each defendant’s court-ordered conditions of release, such as reporting weekly to the Pretrial Office and submitting to random drug/alcohol tests and home visits.

Indian River County agreed to pay St. Lucie County $35,800 in start-up costs, plus $17,912 per month, or a total of $107,472 through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Indian River County commissioners voted unanimously to approve the interlocal agreement for pretrial services on the morning of Dec. 7 and St. Lucie County commissioners did likewise that evening. The agreement for pretrial services may be extended, if both commissions are pleased with the outcome. Either county can terminate the agreement without cause with a 60-day written notice.

Indian River County expects to pay $250,000 annually for the program, but the county jail will save $650,000 per year in housing and food costs for the inmates who enter the pretrial release program, county records show. That yields annual savings of $400,000.

Indian River County will also save the costs of providing medical care to the inmates who are released under the pre-trial program. And defendants facing relatively minor charges, who might otherwise languish in jail, will be able to continue working.

St. Lucie County can ask Indian River to pay for additional staffing if the number of defendants enrolled in the program exceeds 25 per pretrial officer for six straight weeks. The optimal pretrial officer to defendant ratio is 1-to-20, both county governments agreed.