Consultants make recommendations to reduce jail population, still keep public safe in Smith County

Consultants make recommendations to reduce jail population, keep public safe in Smith County
Published: Oct. 3, 2023 at 8:15 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 3, 2023 at 8:53 PM CDT

TYLER, Texas (KLTV) - A study of the Smith County judicial system has resulted in recommendations that could lower the jail population while still keeping the public safe.

“If we can reduce the jail population, that’s great,” said Pct. 2 Commissioner John Moore. “But it needs to be balanced with public safety to make sure if they are released, that it was the right move to make.”

And it’s that balancing act that Smith County hopes to achieve following a comprehensive study of the county’s judicial process.

Commissioned by former county judge Nathaniel Moran in 2022, the study examined things like the time inmates spend in jail ahead of trial and the number of people being recommended for pretrial release.

“Coming out of the pandemic, of course, our trials were shut down for a year,” said Smith County District Attorney Jacob Putman. “Nothing we could do about that. But in 2022 and now in 2023, we’ve made a lot of progress on our backlog.”

Progress that was shown in the study presented during the Tuesday morning meeting of the Smith County Commissioners Court, which revealed the county is now slightly above average for cases cleared.

“I definitely saw improvement in the data,” Commissioner Moore said. “I do think there is more room for improvement.”

Among the recommendations from consultants: separate adult probation from pretrial services.

“It will take some funding to kickstart that, but we think that by reducing your jail population and being more confident of who you’re releasing on pretrial bond, it will benefit you in the long run,” said one of the GMJ consultants presenting the findings.

The consulting firm also recommended the county use more effective monitoring devices.

“There are ankle monitors to monitor if you’re using alcohol, there are devices to install on their cars to make sure that they don’t have any alcohol in their system if they’re driving. For people who are worried about a victim, maybe them coming after a victim and they’re able to make bond, there’s electronic monitoring to monitor where they are to make sure they’re not going around a victim,” Putman said. “We have lots of tools like that available. We use them, and we need to expand the use of those monitoring tools.”

The study also found the county is screening inmates too late to determine if they’re poor or falsely claiming indigent status.

“If you’re in jail just because you’re poor, we don’t want that. Indigent people have a right to bail. They need to be released on bail. But if you’re a safety risk to the victim or to the public, we do need to protect the public,” Putman said.

On average, Smith County spends about $65 to $70 a day to house an inmate. Findings presented to the commissioners court are expected to also be shared with district and county court judges in the near future.