GALLIPOLIS — Gallipolis Municipal Judge Eric Mulford announced Tuesday that a newly established pre-trial services program has been reducing the number of defendants who reoffend, who fail to appear for court, and who test positive for drug use during the pendency of their case.
The court implemented the program on July 1 based on a report released by the Ohio Supreme Court’s Task Force on Bail, which encouraged all of Ohio’s trial courts to offer pretrial supervision and services specially tailored to the level of each defendant’s risk and needs.
Services coordinated by the Gallipolis Municipal Court’s Probation Department can include lethality and substance use assessments; GPS monitoring; drug testing; work release; referrals to in-patient rehabilitation or sober living facilities; and referrals to community-based behavioral health providers.
The court was recently awarded renewals of a Community Corrections Act (CCA) grant in the amount of $59,352 and a Justice Reinvestment Incentive (JRI) grant in the amount of $272,144. Both grants bring tax dollars back into Gallia County to employ three full-time probation officers and provide community corrections programming for the next 24 months.
“The Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services audits our community corrections programs, and the result of our April, 2019 site review indicates that our probation staff has excelled in their delivery of that programming for offenders who are sentenced to probation,” Mulford said, noting that the probation staff achieved a score of 99 percent on their state evaluation. “The state is shifting its focus to encourage pre-trial services, and we believe in the goals of that programming so we are following suit.”
Mulford said that the purpose of pre-trial services is to intervene with moderate to high-risk defendants immediately upon their involvement in the criminal court system so that offenders may be connected more quickly with behavioral health providers and community-based programs designed to reduce criminal attitudes and behaviors. The goals of pre-trial services are to: reduce the number of defendants who reoffend; reduce the number of defendants who fail to appear for court, which is a goal of Gov. Mike DeWine’s warrant task force; and reduce the number of defendants who use illegal drugs and abuse alcohol or other legal drugs.
The municipal court has implemented a basic pre-trial services criteria with no additional costs beyond what is covered by the community corrections grants, as the court already used the Ohio Risk Assessment System (ORAS) tool to screen defendants and already had established partnerships with community-based behavioral health providers as part of its specialized drug and mental health court dockets.
“This is a small community and we know a lot of the defendants who are charged with non-violent misdemeanor offenses, and thus far we are offering successful pre-trial services without the complexities that you might see in a larger jurisdiction,” Mulford said. “I feel like we’re frequently able to anticipate a defendant’s needs or underlying problems and get the higher risk defendants a treatment referral or placed into some programming that will both hold them accountable and ultimately help achieve a case outcome that is desirable to both the prosecution and defense.”
“We have a small but very effective and hardworking probation staff, and they have excellent partners in the sheriff’s office, jail, and work release center who have been tremendously helpful in facilitating assessments for newly arrested defendants, and also in later supervising defendants who have been released on bond after a referral to pre-trial services,” Mulford said. “The sheriff is probably the public official that first comes to mind when you think about public safety, but I believe that the judges should work equally as hard to serve and protect the community. My staff and I hope that this is another step in the direction we are all working toward, which is to make our county safer and to make sure county government is responsive to the community’s needs.”
Gallia County Sheriff Matt Champlin said that he was pleased with the efforts being made by the local courts to address the issues plaguing many criminal offenders. “Our criminal justice community is focused on collaboratively addressing the issues we have as a society and working to remedy those problems by utilizing the resources we have available to us. Our judges are true team players who are focused everyday on working on outside the box solutions to mitigate the risks to our citizens with the authority vested in them.”
Mulford expressed his appreciation to the municipal court probation officers and their community partners, including the Gallia County Sheriff’s Office, Health Recovery Services, Hopewell Health Centers, Holzer Health Systems, Spectrum Outreach Services, TASC of Southeast Ohio, Integrated Services, the Field of Hope Community Campus, and Step Stone Initiatives for their support of the court’s mission.
The judge also mentioned that the court staff is grateful for the work of the Gallipolis City Auditor, Annette Landers, in serving as the fiscal agent for the court’s grant funds. The most recent awards bring the total amount of grant funding received by the municipal court since January, 2017 to over $740,000.
For more information about the Gallipolis Municipal Court, visit the court’s website at gmcourt.org, or call the Bailiff at (740) 446-9400, Ext. 222.