Pretrial services, the state of the jail and new discovery rules were among the topics of discussion Monday morning between Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson and the Greene County Commission.
One of the major topics of discussion was changes coming to pretrial services and their impact on the Greene County Jail population. The state has created a new pretrial tool and system for evaluating defendants and their danger to the community but did not provide the counties with the funds to implement that tool or system.
Patterson said the state’s action is so vague in its reach that if the state system for pretrial is used for every defendant on every charge, pretrial services will be overloaded and time for defendants to move through the system could increase. He said the Commission will likely have to draft guidelines for when pretrial is used to ensure the pretrial services can operate in an efficient manner with current personnel and budget.
The pretrial system tool from the state is part of their changes to the bail system within the state that Patterson said could end up as essentially the same system for judges. He said the new system will likely require more work on his staff as judges will be requiring additional information on cases and his staff will need more time in court for detention hearings.
Patterson added that despite what some are promoting on social media, the new system does not eliminate cash bail.
Patterson said that the state’s computer system for handling information related to these cases does not communicate with the county system. Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon noted that frequently the state’s computer systems lag behind in technology from those of the counties.
PA Patterson noted that the state is implementing these changes without having communication with the county prosecutors that are impacted by the state’s action. He said in some cases it’s a matter of state employees “pushing their work downhill” and forcing counties to handle items that should be done on the state level.
Patterson believes that some of the state-mandated changes actually work against the most important way to reduce jail population.
“The biggest issue with the jail [overpopulation] is getting these cases through the courthouse faster,” Patterson said.
Patterson informed the Commission of changes by the state to the discovery process that essentially doubles the amount of time a prosecutor spends on providing information to the defense.
Previously, prosecutors would provide a redacted copy of the information to the legal counsel of a defendant removing items like social security numbers but leaving in legally sensitive information that an opposing counsel would need to know such as contact information for people involved in the prosecution. Now, the state requires the prosecutor to provide a report of information to defendants as well which requires a second round of redactions to protect witnesses and others involved with the cases.
It was noted again that the state did not provide additional funds to the counties for the additional costs associated with the mandate.
Patterson did note that additional staff brought on as a result of the 2017 sales tax approved by voters has helped reduce outstanding cases. He said that the tax allowed his department to hire 10 prosecutors and that they have been able to retain nine of them. (The tenth gave notice of resignation to move to their hometown of St. Louis.)
Patterson said three of the new hires were added to the persons unit that focuses on cases such as domestic violence and sexual assaults in an effort to eliminate the backlog in the department.
Another change made was the assignment of secretaries to individual units, allowing them to focus on a specific range of cases and attorneys rather than covering the entire office. Patterson said this change has shown an increase in efficiency and cut the amount of work time on cases owing the familiarity of the secretaries with the lawyers involved and the necessities of filings in each case.
Patterson noted that statistics showing an increase in filing of felonies and misdemeanors this year over last year at the same time is directly connected to the increase in staff in the prosecutor’s office.
Patterson also spoke about progress in making the Greene County Family Justice Center a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. He noted that with the goals of the organization long-term it won’t be feasible for the county to indefinitely foot the bill. He said the move to a non-profit will allow for donations from community organizations and allow for the application for grants from places such as the federal Victims of Crime act fund.