Following two years of scrutiny and associated angst about a lack of state funding, the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors – feeling pressure from the local justice system –unanimously approved the launch Tuesday of its first ever pretrial supervision program that will allow nonviolent, low-risk defendants to avoid prolonged jail time as they await their day in court.
Culpeper County was the only locality in the area without the program, though more than half of its inmates would likely be eligible for the program with many being held for months only because they can’t afford bond amounts as low as $100.
Catalpa Supervisor Sue Hansohn has been a consistent voice for launching the program supported by the Culpeper County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, Culpeper County Bar Association and all four local judges.
“Using this program will help people sitting in jail waiting,” she said, adding that it would significantly decrease jail costs.
The Culpeper County Department of Criminal Justice Services run by director Andrew Lawson will administer the program with a budget of $233,146—an amount that includes filling a currently vacant probation officer position and hiring a deputy director.
Lawson said he expects to cross-train his probation officers as pretrial services officers and that he would continue to seek state funding for the program already fully funded in the county budget.
The fact that the state funds all other pretrial programs around Virginia was a continued bone of contention for board chairman Jack Frazier.
“It’s admirable to think about people sitting in jail, not able to work or be with their family, but the bottom line is that the taxpayers are being asked to pay for this,” he said.
Currently, it costs $32 to house an inmate in the local jail behind the courthouse on West Cameron Street, more than $11,000 per year, according to Lawson. If just 20 defendants were accepted into the program on a daily basis, it would cover its cost, he said.
The operating capacity of the circa 1980 jail is 37 inmates and yet the average daily jail population managed by the sheriff’s office is 156; dozens of defendants must be shipped to outside facilities for incarceration, costing the county hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
“I feel confident we are going to save money,” Lawson said, noting it would take four to five months to get the program up and running.
Of the 156 average daily population, more than 90 would likely be eligible for pretrial release, he said.
“It’s a tough call,” noted County Administrator John Egertson at Monday’s meeting as the board pondered its decision.
Stevensburg Supervisor Bill Chase, however, didn’t think it was a tough call at all.
“We will overall save money if more than 20 people are in the program,” he said. “I don’t think it is any problem at all.”
He made the motion to approve the program and Hansohn gave a speedy second.
The board considered various letters before voting to support the program, including one from Circuit Court Judge Susan Whitlock of the 16th Judicial Circuit.
“Population data indicates that many defendants are held without bail due to lack of services available to perform such functions as monitoring alcohol and illegal drug use as well as use of prescription drugs,” she wrote. “The overcrowding of the jail requires many inmates to be housed in other facilities causing many issues with transportation to and from court, the ability for attorneys to meet and communicate with their clients … unnecessary but unavoidable continuances as well as additional costs.”
Whitlock said implementing pretrial services in Culpeper, as are available throughout the judicial circuit, would greatly improve the court system here.
Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court Judge David Barredo and General District Court Judge Dale Durrer concurred, saying the program would allow for closer supervision of nonviolent and low-risk defendants awaiting trial through the use of GPS bracelets, substance abuse/mental health screening, random drug screenings, a requirement to maintain employment and face-to-face meetings with pretrial officers.
In other localities around the 16th judicial circuit, the pretrial officer prepares a risk assessment for each defendant, information the court has when it determines bail eligibility, the judges said.
JDR Court Judge Frank Somerville wrote in his letter that the board would have to consider the cost of the program versus the potential savings to the county.
“There are savings to the individual and his/her family that are probably harder to quantify,” he said. “Jobs that are lost because the defendant remains in jail, child support that is not paid, houses that are foreclosed on. And it is not unusual to have charges dismissed against defendants who have spent 30-60 days in jail waiting for their trial.”
Culpeper County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Walther told the board Tuesday that launching pretrial services was the right thing to do. It allows a judge to free an innocent person while they await trial, he said, and it allows the court to monitor drug users, currently not an option.
Walther, a Culpeper resident, said he supported using his tax money to fund the program, adding that unnecessarily incarcerated individuals cause other unseen costs in human services and childcare.
Culpeper County Bar Association President Wenonah Petersen said pretrial services were essential to defense attorneys being able to do their jobs. She said the program would enhance public safety by providing an in-depth analysis of risk to inform judicial decisions; ensure compliance through pretrial monitoring; reduce taxpayer cost through a reduction in the jailed population with little to no risk of flight or threat to public safety and improve attorney/client communication through reduction of the use of outside jails—including Piedmont Regional in Farmville, some 100 miles from Culpeper.
“Culpeper is the only county within our judicial circuit that does not use some form of pretrial services, and not surprisingly, has a correspondingly higher jail population that the average within Virginia,” she said.
American law contemplates a presumption of release before trial, according to, “A Framework for Pretrial Justice,” published in February by the National Institute of Corrections.
“As the U.S. Supreme Court articulated in United States v. Salerno: ‘In our society, liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception,’” the paper said.
Nationally, almost 63 percent of jail detainees have not yet been convicted of a crime and since 2000, 95 percent of the growth in jail resources is from the increase in unconvicted defendants, the paper said, noting collateral consequences.
“Research demonstrates that individuals held in jail before trial, even for short periods of time, have worse outcomes, such as higher risk of unemployment, sentencing disparity and recidivism,” the paper said.
Even when jailed for just two to three days, low-risk defendants are almost 40 percent more likely to commit new crimes before trial than equivalent defendants held no more than 24 hours, according to the National Institute of Corrections.
In 2015, the U.S. Dept. of Justice confirmed as illegal the common practice of incarcerating someone prior to trial due to an inability to post bond.
“ … the Department stated that incarceration solely due to poverty violates the Constitution and that using secured money bonds leads to defendants who pose no public safety risk being incarcerated unnecessarily,” according the National Institute of Corrections. “Instead of such systems, the Department urged courts to switch to ‘one grounded in objective risk assessments by pretrial experts.’”
Earlier this week, the New Mexico Supreme Court put new expedited procedures in place for assuring that non-dangerous, low-risk defendants are not jailed while awaiting trial solely because they cannot buy a bail bond, as is the case with many Culpeper County inmates, according to officials.