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County part-time position to help with jail policy

January 26, 2011 | 08:46 AM
Elkhorn — Walworth County is seeking some short-term staff help for its Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.

Although the job may last only six months, whoever is hired would help the CJCC and Walworth County Board set jail incarceration policy for years to come.

The Walworth County Board's Executive Committee recommended hiring the temporary staff at its Jan. 17 meeting.

The committee's reasoning was that the CJCC's members, which include District Attorney Phil Koss, Circuit Court Judge David Reddy, members of the public defenders office, the county Health and Human Services Department and others who deal with the county's jail population, already have enough work to do.

The new staff person would be charged with tracking down grants and researching ways for the county to implement changes in how it handles its pretrial, post-trial and drug offense jail populations.

"We hope to locate a person with experience with the court system," said County Administrator David Bretl, who is charged with creating the job description and finding candidates for the position.

Although the Executive Committee set no deadlines for finding the new staff person, Bretl said he hopes to get out a job description and begin recruiting as soon as possible. But he wants to make sure the county reaches out to people who are qualified and knowledgeable enough to do the work expected.

The problem is finding someone with those qualifications who might be willing to take on a part-time position, Bretl said.

"Better to do it right than quickly," he said. "I want the Executive Committee and the CJCC to be confortable with the person."

The new position would report to the county administrator.

The Walworth County Board and the CJCC have wrestled with the problem of reducing the county's jail population for a year now.

The two committees need to develop common goals for changing the county's incarceration policy.

The county is considering diversion programs, which would get most nonviolent offenders out of jail and into programs to help cut recividism.

Among the diversion programs being considered are those for treatment of repeat drunken drivers and offenders with drug and alcohol dependencies.

Interest in diversion programs to keep people out of the jail started when it became apparent that the jail section at the Walworth County Correctional Center, opened in 1996, was beginning to reach capacity. The correctional center also has a Huber dorm.

The county was facing the possibility of spending up to $11 million for a new jail, plus another $1 million a year for staffing.

According to a report from the Pretrial Justice Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that does jail use studies for counties around the country, the key to making the diversion programs work is to properly screening those entering the county's criminal justice system, called risk assessment, to determine who can benefit from the diversion programs and who has to be held behind bars.

Working up recommendations for screening and who would do that screening could fall to the new staff person, Bretl said.

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