BRADENTON — By 8 a.m. each day, some details are known about those appearing before a judge for a first appearance after an arrest.
But that’s often not enough for a judge to get enough information to decide if each person should stay locked up in jail or released on bond, court officials say.
That will change this fall when jail officials will begin having the entire day to assess a person’s arrest background, ties to the community, possible mental health problems and employment status before their first appearance.
The premise: More time for background checks will ease jail crowding.
A similar plan has been implemented and shown success in Sarasota, so a trial run is planned for Manatee. On Oct. 5, first appearances will begin after 1 p.m.
The exhaustive background checks completed throughout the day will be presented for a judge to not only keep dangerous suspects jailed on higher bonds, but to identify the indigent in jail on minor charges and release them on lower or no bond, according to court officials.
“We are going to take it slow to make sure we do it right, but we are hoping it is going to work both ways,” Assistant State Attorney Ed Brodsky said. “Judges will have more information on those who may be a danger to the community if released, but also someone in jail on a minor charge will not sit in jail for weeks or months because they can’t afford a bond.”
Manatee Sheriff Brad Steube favors moving first appearances back to give probation and parole investigators time for more thorough background checks. The Manatee County jail is at capacity and understaffed, he said, and any effort to get population numbers down is welcome.
“I think it is going to work. I think giving probation and parole more time to gather information will allow judges to assess people who can be released in lieu of a bond,” Steube said. “It is going to be a new system that I am sure will have some hiccups, but I look forward to looking at our numbers in a few months to see how it is going.”
Assessing the mental health histories of those arrested is another reason first appearances will be pushed back, according to Circuit Judge Diana Moreland.
Mental health experts will be at the jail once the program starts to make assessments on those arrested for misdemeanors, to determine if counseling and/or medication can be recommended to judges as a condition of release at first appearance.
“It will just give judges another option to give someone an opportunity to get the counseling and medication they need so they aren’t right back under arrest again,” said Moreland. “But it also allows that if someone doesn’t show up for counseling or their medication, their release can be revoked.”
Some parameters have been established for suspects who cannot qualify for release on reduced or no bail.
“Those arrested for DUIs, violent or sex-related misdemeanors will not be eligible,” Brodsky said.