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Washington: County Pre-Trial Services Blew $400,000 In 2003

In 2003, Pierce County, Washington's bloated Pre-Trial Services (PTS)
wasted $400,000--nearly half of its 2004 budget of $809,000, according to a
preliminary county audit.

A division of the Sheriff Department's Corrections Bureau, PTS decides
which criminal defendants are eligible for court appointed attorneys and
whether certain misdemeanor defendants can be released on their own
recognizance. PTS maintains 11 employees--5 more than necessary for the
amount of work it does, says the audit report.

Our conclusion is that Pre-Trial Services could have spent $400,000 less
and performed the same level of services, at the same quality, said
private auditor Ben Adkins before a County Council advisory committee on
October 14, 2004. There are just too many staff during the week for the
amount of work that's available.

PTS performs three main functions: determining through interviews which
defendants should be appointed county-paid lawyers; screening misdemeanor
prisoners to determine if they can be released to ease overcrowding; and
researching defendants' criminal backgrounds and issuing reports to courts
and the jail.

The audit found, however, that screeners don't always verify financial
information before approving county paid attorneys and don't consistently
make required reference checks before recommending prisoners for release,
and that criminal background reports are unnecessary because, according to
courts, the information is obtainable elsewhere.

The audit recommended eliminating PTS, scrapping 8 of its current
positions, and reassigning the other 3 to courts or the jail. It further
recommended assigning jailers to screen prisoners for release and perform
background checks. The changes would save $530,000, the report concludes.
But County Councilman Shawn Bunney noted that the recommendations were
preliminary and not binding. There are several layers of decision-making
even before we get to the policy-makers who can make a final decision,
said Bunney. Hopefully somewhere in that process the welfare of prisoners
and defendants will be considered.

View the report online at

Source: Tacoma News Tribune

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