County might drop pretrial services

ALAMOSA — Due to budget issues and a lack of communication, Alamosa County Jail may be abandoning Rocky Mountain Offender Management Systems (RMOMS) as a contractor for pretrial services. The jail would then either do the operations—like providing ankle monitors—in-house, choose another provider or cease with pretrial services altogether.

With all tax dollars going to the new courthouse and detention center, the Alamosa County Sheriff's Office has to use reserves from the general fund to pay $7,000 to $8,000 a month for RMOMS. Alamosa County Attorney Jason Kelly estimates that $100,000 will be spent for 2017 on that program alone.

"Our budget looks a little grim and we're trying to examine all of our expenditures," said Alamosa County Sheriff Robert Jackson during a work session at the Alamosa County Commissioners meeting on Wednesday.

It is unclear what would happen if the county discontinued their contract with RMOMS. The service is monitoring roughly 50 people already so Jackson does not know if they would immediately go back to the jail. Jackson said that the overall goal was to reduce the jail population. However, they still have an average of 140 inmates a day with 40 being housed out at other jails.

"The outside housing is going to be around $400,000 for the rest of 2017," said Alamosa County Chief Financial Officer Brittney DeHerrera.

Defendants awaiting trial make up a large portion of the jail population, especially since the overworked District Attorney's office has to issue continuances so they can be adequately prepared for trial.

Another factor in the jail population is that multiple offenders aren't eligible for RMOMS. Kelly roughly estimates that 33 percent of arrests in Alamosa are individuals with previous arrests.

Aside from those 50 people, it is also ambiguous as to what RMOMS is doing beneficially for the county. Officials haven't received any reports or communication except for invoices. Kelly said that RMOMS has not been present at the two previous pretrial discussions meetings, yet he admitted he forgot to inform them of Wednesday's work session. The Valley Courier could not reach RMOMS for comment.

If the sheriff’s office decides to handle pretrial services themselves they would need to hire 1.5 fulltime employees. One portion of RMOMS services is administering the Colorado Pretrial Assessment Tool (CPAT) questionnaire, which a judge uses to determine program eligibility based on previous arrests and other criteria. Jackson said that could be done at booking, yet it would be a little difficult.

"When someone comes into our booking we try to get as much information from them as possible," Jackson said, "yet 92 percent of our intake are heroin addicts. Most of the people that come into our jail are under the influence of alcohol or drugs."

For comparison, RMOMS interviews defendants the following day rather than when they're immediately booked.

The second portion of RMOMS services is providing urinalysis (UA), ankle monitors and regular check-ins with defendants. Jackson admits that while they've done monitoring before it would strain their resources.

"We think we can be more efficient. Information will be more accessible and accurate if we do it ourselves. Yet if we went back to the way things were it would be very risky, it may be expensive and it's going to be an added burden on command staff. But it would tell us whether or not it's beneficial."

Jackson and Kelly believe the cost would be roughly the same, yet DeHerrera prefers to go with the known line item.

"If we stay with RMOMs that's a guaranteed $7,000 to $8,000 a month for the rest of the year," she said. "But we don't know if we tone that back and take it away, we really don't know how it will affect the costs of housing or the costs in-house. "

Officials also mentioned contacting Freemont County, which has a similarly size jail handling pretrial services on their own.

Abandoning the program altogether is possible but unlikely since there then would be no information to determine if a defendant is a good candidate for a pretrial release.

"If we don't do anything, not even the CPAT score, then you're more likely to see a larger spike in jail population because the judges don't have anything to look at," Kelly said.

It was suggested that inmates could be billed for RMOMS. However, that too is not feasible.

"That's what we did when we first started doing RMOMS," said Kelly. "We really thought it would reduce the number in the jail, but we're in such a depressed community that there's no way they could afford that. They'd get out and two weeks later they'd be right back in because they can't pay for the UAs or the monitoring."

Officials also discussed going with Advantage Treatment Centers, the new owners of community corrections, since they were the other bidder for the pretrial services.

"Evidently looking at the numbers shows it's not working," said Alamosa County Commissioner Michael Yohn. "But sometimes you have to look beyond the dollar and at the individuals that deserve a chance to be on pretrial release. Look at the judges who will be reluctant to let them out unless there is a program. I do feel there is a value to the program even though we can't see it in the numbers."

Because the discussion was a work session there was no formal action made by the board.