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Pretrial supervision program in Missoula expands

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MISSOULA, Mont. - Missoula Correctional Services is expanding its pretrial supervision program. Correctional Services Director Sue Wilkens says the program is busy, so they're adding a new employee.

The pretrial supervision program is an alternative to jail, and judges are asking for more pretrial screenings, which is keeping staffers busy.

"That's going to allow us another 16 people to pull out of the detention center. It also allows us to screen people quicker and move people quicker, in and out of the detention center," said Wilkens.

Jail directors tell us they desperately need those 16 beds.

This isn't the first time the pretrial program has expanded. It started back in 1998 with one employee. Eight years later, they added an employee to lighten the caseload and now, another eight years later, they are doing the same thing.

The program would keep defendants out of jail cells. Correctional services monitors 32 to 38 defendants who are awaiting trial but not behind bars.

The jail can house nearly 400 inmates, but we're told that it is regularly too full.

County leaders and jail directors are considering solutions including cutting back on the number of beds leased to the state corrections department.

Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss said a last resort would be a $12 million expansion to the facility.

"It costs $100 a day to house someone in the detention center, so this is a lot cheaper program," said Wilkins.

Wilkins said the supervision requires a screening process that evaluates whether defendants are flight risks, a threat to public safety or at risk of hurting themselves. If they pass that evaluation they undergo routine breath drug and urine tests, GPS monitoring or counseling.

While the program's expansion keeps more people out of jail, Wilkins makes it clear -- defendants who don't follow the rules will end up in jail.

There will be more discussion on the pretrial program at a meeting to be held later this month, but no date has been set.

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