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Greene County searches for alternative to offender catch-and-release system

Sunday, February 15, 2009 | 8:43 p.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD — A policy at the Greene County jail that sets low-level offenders free shortly after they're arrested to save costs is being reviewed and could possibly be eliminated.

The county's judges and other court officials are working on a plan that would end the book-and-release program. They say it has hurt more than helped since it started in 2005 because it puts suspects right back on the street.

"Criminal behavior needs immediate, immediate response," said Greene County Presiding Judge Dan Conklin. "We're violating the very fundamental rule by casting people out when we catch them and not revisiting them for months and years."

Conklin has proposed using a probable-cause bond schedule. Suspects arrested for certain crimes would automatically be eligible for a set bond amount, even if no charges are filed.

Rather than allowing inmates who don't post bond to be released in 24 hours with no charges, officers and prosecutors would work to make sure a case is filed.

Conklin estimates that roughly 50 percent of new inmates would post bond rather than face immediate court action. The other 50 percent would remain in jail and await charges, with an arraignment shortly after, he said.

"Ultimately, we should have a jail-population reduction," Conklin said of the plan.

Springfield Police Chief Lynn Rowe said the book-and-release policy frustrates officers, but he said he would need to learn more about Conklin's proposal and what it would mean for his short-staffed department.

Officers would likely face additional arrest-related work.

"I think the goal is probably a good one, but the mechanics of how we make that happen is something that will require a lot of discussion," Rowe said. "Initially, everyone would have to accept the fact that it probably would increase the jail numbers."

The Greene County jail was designed to hold 500 inmates, but is staffed adequately for only 450, Sheriff Jim Arnott said.

The facility topped out at 607 inmates in September.


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