Justice system to see changes

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JANESVILLE - The Rock County criminal justice system will see some changes as officials begin to implement a pilot program aimed at improving outcomes for those caught up in the legal process.

Rock County is one of six Wisconsin counties selected as part of the national, Evidence-based Decision Making (EBDM) model.

After the county board passed its 2019 budget that included over $481,000 for EBDM implementation earlier this month, steps towards reforms may soon come to life.

The county's EBDM ad hoc committee that includes state, county and municipal stakeholders plans to send a plan to the county board on Jan. 10 that could see the Rock County Jail implement a pretrial assessment program for 90 days on a temporary basis, if approved.

The trial run, planned to be administered by Milwaukee-based nonprofit JusticePoint, will screen inmates at the Rock County Jail to determine various factors of a given inmate at the jail before an initial pretrial monitoring and assessment program is put in place.

The process has some complications stemming from data access privileges as part of out-of-state criminal histories and how those records can be viewed by county staff during the assessment process.

"We anticipated we would be further along with JusticePoint," said Rock County Administrator Josh Smith.

Even with the delays, Smith said the funding provided by the board for next year represented a "significant increase."

Of the trial program, Court Commissioner Stephen Meyer said circuit court officials were "excited" about starting work.

"It's time that we do something," Meyer said.

Rock County Criminal Justice System Planner Elizabeth Pohlman McQuillen said long term criminogenic risk screenings for inmates would take place alongside the implementation period, but noted the complexity of the process.

"Not any one solution is going to be easy," McQuillen said. "We keep coming up with potential solutions and we will try to figure out how to move forward with it."

The county's EBDM effort will look to tackle risk screening and assessment, pre-charge diversion, enhanced deferred prosecution polices and behavioral health information sharing between law enforcement. Janesville Police Chief David Moore, who's helped oversee the implementation of a countywide mental health database for all county law enforcement agencies, said since implementation this year, 263 entries have been made by officers.

The flagging system looks to improve interactions between citizens with past mental health problems and law enforcement, and provides information for officers to use in deescalating tense situations.

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