ANDERSON — The Madison County criminal justice system is implementing a new policy starting on Jan. 1 when it comes to pre-trial incarceration.

“This is a radical change in people being detained awaiting trial,” Madison Circuit Court Division 4 Judge David Happe said. “We are eliminating cash bonds.”

For the past 18 months officials in the criminal justice system have been working on a new pre-trial detention program prior to a mandate from the Indiana Supreme Court.

The state started a pilot program in several counties of a Risk Assessment System, which will be used to determine if a person arrested on a misdemeanor or Level 6 and Level 5 felony charges should be released without posting a cash bond of $500.

Happe said the Risk Assessment System will look at an offender’s potential flight risk, risk of committing a violent crime and criminal history.

“In most cases people arrested on a misdemeanor or Level 6 felony charge will be released on their own recognizance,” said Steve Koester, chief deputy in the Madison County Prosecutor’s office. “There will be more oversight over people released from the jail.”

Currently, if a person posts bond and is released from the jail there is no supervision imposed by the court system. The new system will have different levels of supervision through the probation department.

An offender cannot be released if charged with specific crimes, pending criminal cases or is on probation without first appearing before a judge.

Happe said the Madison County Probation Department will conduct the risk assessment.

Local attorney Ashley Hopper has been working with the court system on the development of the program and noted both Hamilton and Grant counties are using a risk assessment system.

Hopper said Madison County is ahead of a lot of counties when it comes to applying the risk assessment system.

“We wanted to do something before mandated by the state,” she said.

The county has received $160,000 through two grants to pay for implementation of the program and to hire additional probation officers, who will oversee the risk assessment process.

“Every county is different,” Happe said. “It depends on what they are comfortable with locally. It has been successful in other counties.

Koester said the goal of the program is to make sure the right people — those who are the greatest risk to the public — are in the jail and the others are released.

“It’s a question of safety and fairness,” Happe said. “People are being incarcerated awaiting trial because they or their family can’t post a $500 cash bond.”

Koester said there will be different types of supervision for people released on their own recognizance including reporting to the probation department weekly or monthly and drug screens.

Brian Williams, chief of the Madison County Public Defender’s office, said what it means for someone arrested on a drug charge is that they can receive treatment sooner.

“This means a large number of people charged with Level 6 felonies, who are not going to prison anyway, will be eliminated from the jail population,” he said.

Under Indiana state law, anyone convicted of a Level 6 felony remains in the county jail where they were charged and the state pays $35 per day.

“This is long overdue,” Williams said. “It’s not perfect, but everyone involved has worked on this program.”

Koester said the system will be tweaked once it is implemented.

“If we experience problems, we can fix it quickly,” he said.
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