Court amends bond schedule to curb re-offenders, missed court dates
The bond schedule was adjusted early in the pandemic to slow the number of new people entering the jail in an effort to prevent an outbreak within the jail's vulnerable population. The newest amendment to the bond schedule aims to address some of the problems that have arisen since then.
In an effort to prevent a coronavirus outbreak inside Grand Forks County Correctional Center, some low-level offenders have been granted a personal recognizance bond or a court summons so that they don't spend unnecessary time awaiting a court date in the jail's population.
The reasoning behind the decision is that the jail population has a high risk of contracting the virus, and becomes even more high-risk when more people are held in a confined space. It was a change made within the Northeast Central Judicial District early in the pandemic.
As it became clear that some such defendants were either skipping their required court date or re-offending shortly after their initial encounter with law enforcement, Presiding Judge Donald Hager adjusted the bond schedule again last week in an effort to address that problem.
Under the amended bond schedule, he said the aim is still to keep low-level offenders out of the jail, but he likened the new system to a "catch and release" program.
The biggest change is that under the new bond schedule, people who commit some offenses – largely drug offenses, since Hager said that from what he's seen, people who commit those offenses are the most likely to quickly re-offend – will now be taken to the jail to be processed and fingerprinted, as well as to apply for a public defender, before being released.
Previously, defendants would be issued a summons and sign a promise to appear in court, and would then be processed and fingerprinted at their initial court appearance. Now that they're put in the system on they day that they offend, Hager said it will be easier to enforce missed court dates. He also hopes it will provide an incentive to attend required hearings.
By processing drug offenders on the first day, offenders can also be connected right away with a drug patch or a drug testing program so that they can begin to get the help they need while they await their court date.
"The idea is not to hold them in there," Hager said. "The idea is that we get them in a testing program."
With state-sentenced inmates in the jail being sent to the state prison in Bismarck for the first time since March, the local jail's population is the lowest it's been in years, and it's continuing to drop. Hager said both he and jail staff are more confident in GFCCC's ability to isolate sick inmates, but he said the new bond schedule still takes takes into account the vulnerability of the jail population.
"It's a real balancing act between the judge and the correctional center, when people can be put in there," he said.
Hager said even before the coronavirus pandemic, the court had been moving toward a more relaxed bond schedule for years. He said many low-level offenders who sit in jail awaiting court dates are generally only there because they can't afford to pay their bond. Although the decision was made to make the pandemic bond schedule a little stricter than it was originally, he said he doesn't see it as a return to the pre-pandemic schedule.
"I think where we're at now we're going to work on this for a while through the summer and see how it pans out," Hager said. "And I think we're probably, in my opinion, pretty close to where I think we'll end up, because the primary concerns are public safety, and personal safety, with the drug issues."