New program will put Cole County criminals back on the street

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Cole County officials announces a new program Thursday that will put criminals back on the streets.

The county is nearing limits on how many inmates it can keep in its 2-year-old jail and needs to make space.

Currently, the jail has 206 beds and one day last month, it topped off at 203 inmates. That is up about 33 percent from a typical night just 18 months ago.

Cole County officials believe the overcrowding is due to people who are not a threat to society, but have to wait in jail to go to court because they cannot afford bond.

"It is pretty clear from the numbers that were shown to us that there is a large number of folks sitting in jail waiting trial or waiting to potentially plead guilty," said Cole County presiding commissioner Marc Ellinger.

Moving forward, the court will allow low-level felons -- who can be monitored outside of jail -- back into the community while they await their court appearance.

The felons will be monitored closely through drug tests, alcohol screenings, and if needed, electronic monitoring systems.

The program is being modeled off a similar one in Greene County after officials there said they have had great success.

Officials say the criminals will be of no harm to the public's safety. Last week, county judges took a random sample of 19 felony defendants and found that 17 of them met the criteria for being consider "low risk."

"And of those, we felt pretty confident that 15 could be supervised in the community," said Ellinger.

Inmates who are in jail for violent crimes such as murder, rape or robbery will not be considered for the program.

Officials hope to have the program in full swing by Sept. 1. They will start with ten inmates and after 60 days, will reevaluate the program and discuss its future.

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