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Idaho county awarded $1M grant for criminal justice reform

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 5, 2017, 5:16 p.m.

BOISE – An Idaho county encompassing Boise was awarded a $1 million grant aimed at reforming the criminal justice system and reducing its jail population.

The Idaho Statesman reported Wednesday that the grant from the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge will be paid out to Ada County over two years to fund eight new jobs to enable reform.

The jobs include inmate case managers, court clerks, a planning analyst and a safety and justice program manager. Part of the reform effort is working to curb the rising jail population before the issue becomes a problem beyond control.

Magistrate Judge James Cawthon said a factor causing jail populations to increase is when people can’t afford to post bond for misdemeanor offenses. In some cases people have been jailed for days because of an invalid license or a minor driving offense, he said.

“We know, from what’s happened around the state and other places, that once this jail is full, that full jail begins driving criminal justice decisions,” Cawthon said. “We need to be smarter about the decisions we’re making on the bench. We need to be smarter about how we are using our jails.”

In June, the county revised policy to allow anyone arrested for certain misdemeanor driving offenses to be released without posting a cash bond. Authorities are examining other ways to expand the policy.

In an effort to decrease the number of people jailed because of missed court hearings, the county plans to roll out an electronic notification system to alert people to their upcoming court dates. Ada County Sheriff Steve Bartlett said the system would be similar to the notifications doctors and dentists typically give for appointments.

Similar grants went to seven other counties across the country: Cook County, Illinois; Los Angeles County, California; Mecklenburg County, North Carolina; Multnomah County, Oregon; Palm Beach County, Florida; Pennington County, South Dakota, and Shelby County, Tennessee.