SOUTH BEND — After they're arrested, people who can't afford bond payments often wait for weeks or even months in the St. Joseph County Jail before they have their day in court.
But that pretrial process — which can disrupt the lives of poor people by causing them to miss payments on cars and child support — will soon be changed by a new program that will rely less on money as an incentive for arrestees to appear in court.
Slated to be launched by the end of this month, the program will allow arrestees to leave jail without paying a bond if judges decide they don't pose a risk of reoffending or missing court appearances. Officials say the jail population is expected to drop, resulting in savings for the county.
The county is among nine chosen last year by the Indiana Supreme Court to test the program, which all counties will be mandated to use by 2020.
A risk assessment tool developed by the state will be used to determine which offenders can be released without bond. They could either be released on their own recognizance or with supervision conditions, such as GPS monitoring and visits with probation officers; as it stands, arrestees are usually not supervised after they post bond and are released from jail.
Kate Williams, executive administrator of the St. Joseph County Community Corrections Advisory Board, is among a group of officials from county departments who have spent more than a year preparing to launch the program. She believes it will help ensure arrestees — who are presumed innocent until proven guilty — aren't improperly jailed.
Under the current system, Williams said, most arrestees who are able to post bond can get out of jail without a risk assessment. But arrestees who pose a low risk might sit in jail simply because they can't afford to post bond.