Monday, March 30, 2015

Law enforcement, criminal justice seek grant to help keep people out of jail

Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis, left, and Dennis Berry, Mesa County Criminal Justice Services director, talk to the Mesa County Commissioners this morning about continuing to use evidence-based practices in their work. They are applying for a $150,000 grant. The Commissioners gave their approval for the grant application. 

Mesa County's Criminal Justice Services Division, along with Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis and others, are applying for a Safety and Justice Challenge grant from the MacArthur Foundation to continue studying how to use evidence-based practices to reduce the number of people sent to jail, among other things.

The grant - for $150,000 - would fund the first phase of the work. That would include planning, organization and data collection over 6 months, said Dennis Berry, director of Mesa County Criminal Justice Services, at this morning's Mesa County Commissioners meeting.

The second phase would include implementation of changes. The group would seek additional funding for the second phase.

Also involved in the planning for the grant application are District Attorney Pete Hautzinger and judges at the municipal, county and district levels, among others, said Sheriff Matt Lewis at the County Commissioners hearing this morning.  

The criminal justice leaders brainstormed and identified two areas on which they'd like to focus:

  1. Giving municipal courts in Grand Junction, Fruita and Palisade sentencing options other than jail. Those could include diversion programs and probation.
  2. Tackling mental health issues in the jail. This starts at the patrol level, Lewis said, and could include crisis intervention training, among other work, for staff. Continuity of care for those who do end up in jail is also a priority,  Lewis said. 
The work being done is "absolutely amazing," said Commissioner Rose Pugliese. "We are thrilled you are going for this grant."

If awarded the MacArthur Foundation grant, the work will go hand in hand with other evidence-based practices the criminal justice community has put into place.

***

This month, Criminal Justice Services is being awarded the Criminal Justice Innovations Award from the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

This follows on the heels of awards won in 2013 for the use of evidence-based practices:
  • In May 2013, the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition awarded Mesa County's Evidence-Based Decision Making Project the "Rupert-Tate Game Changer Award." The award was given for implementing evidence-based practices in criminal justice cases and focusing on outcomes that reduced the jail population, recidivism and incarceration costs. The project was recognized as an example of how people can come together to solve challenging and complex criminal justice system issues and approach recidivism reduction from the perspective of providing people with tools and opportunities to be successful in their lives.
  • In July 2013, the Evidence-Based Pretrial Initiative won an achievement award from the National Association of Counties for the innovative and collaborative design of new bond guidelines and pretrial practices. Those included the implementation of a scientific evaluation that categorizes the public safety risk and the potential to fail to appear in court for defendants in the pretrial phase of the justice system.
For more on Mesa County's Criminal Justice Services Department, go here. For more on the Mesa County Sheriff's Office, go here. For more on the Mesa County District Attorney, go here.

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