January 10. 2007 1:00PM
Commissioners move forward on pretrial release
BY GLEN BAITY
After a protracted debate, the Davidson County commissioners Tuesday night
voted to continue examining a proposed pretrial release program for some
By a 4-2 vote, the commissioners voted to apply for a state grant from the
Governor's Crime Commission that would fund the program for two years.
Pretrial release programs have been identified as a priority for that
commission for 2007.
"This is about treatment of offenders who have not yet been sent to
prison," said District Court Judge Mary Covington, one of several judicial
officials on-hand at the meeting who praised the program as a way to reach
first-time offenders. "(They're) just getting the treatment early. That's
The grant would cover 75 percent of the costs of the program. The county
would pay a $31,102 match in the first year and a $29,986 match in the
second if it receives the grant.
Though the type of prisoner the pretrial release program would serve
hasn't yet been determined, several officials emphasized that in Davidson
County, it would be primarily geared toward young first offenders. The
program would act as a substitute for bond for qualified inmates who are
otherwise unable to afford it. It would offer frequent supervision, drug
testing, and substance abuse and mental health counseling where needed.
"I see pretrial release as an early intervention," said Day Reporting
Director Angela Scott. "We're going to be looking at the first-time
offender, looking at the nonviolent offender ... we're looking at starting
The Day Reporting Center is an intermediate punishment program, which
provides supervision, control and accountability for offenders.
Board Chairman Fred McClure, a strong proponent of the program, said it
offered a chance for young offenders caught up in a cycle of crime to get
needed rehabilitation. While he cautioned that some offenders would
inevitably fail in the program, others "are just looking for the
opportunity to get out" of the cycle.
That line of reasoning failed to sway several speakers and commissioners
at the meeting, who downplayed the program's effectiveness as a
cost-saving measure and a way to reduce the jail population. Davidson
County has slightly more than 300 inmates in the jail.
Bail bondsman Steve Shell called the initiative "a criminal welfare
system," a characterization for which Clerk of Court Brian Shipwash later
voiced his approval.
Shipwash offered a presentation detailing his opposition to the program,
cautioning that many pretrial release programs begin with the intention of
aiding nonviolent offenders, but that they eventually "ballooned to
include cases more risky than originally intended."
He said the pretrial release program would constitute a level of unneeded
"It is easier to create (a bureaucracy) than it is to get rid of one,"
He also pointed out that for a pretrial release program to be implemented
in the county, it would need the cooperation of Resident Superior Court
Judge Mark E. Klass, who does not support the program.
McClure, however, took issue with the characterization of the program as
criminal welfare, saying the phrase was "a misnomer." The program's
function, he said, would be to intervene before offenders become "hardened
"We can be flexible enough to make the program any way we want," he said.
Commissioner Sam Watford observed that if the county receives the
grant, it can evaluate the program's funding after the grant money runs
out to gauge its effectiveness.
In the end, McClure was joined by Watford, Don Truell and Max Walser in
approving the application submission. Commissioner Larry Potts did not
attend the meeting due to illness. Commissioner Billy Joe Kepley said he
found Shipwash's argument convincing, causing him to vote against. He was
joined by Larry Allen, who voiced his "strong opposition" for the record.
"This is a fishing expedition, and this boy ain't biting," Allen said.
Glen Baity can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 227, or
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