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Court program working — for now

A review of the two-month-old video arraignment program and a report on jail bed usage was presented to the Ashland City Council at a study session Monday night.

Darla Case, Ashland Municipal Court lead clerk, said that video arraignment is valuable and beneficial to everyone involved, but ends up being time-consuming for one person to take on. Case has worked in the Ashland court for 18 years and is retiring at the end of this year. She told council that in order to move forward with these new changes, there needs to be more staff.

She said that over the years more responsibilities have been loaded on the two to three clerks than staff is able to take care of. She also said that she has a matter of hours to prepare for the video arraignments as opposed to a couple of days she normally has with physical appearances in the court room.

Judge Pam Turner backed up her request for more staff by confirming that with only two to three clerks at a given time, they often do not have enough time to take a break.

“For the better part of 18 years, three clerks have been enough although if one person is on vacation, or ill, or training, problems do arrive,” Turner said. “Operating the court, especially on video arraignment days, with two clerks is next to impossible, and with one clerk is, in fact, impossible. When only two clerks are on duty, they do not have the ability to use the restroom, let alone take a 15-minute break or their half-hour lunch break. We’ve had that experience.”

“If the video arraignments are going to continue two days a week, Ashland Municipal Court must have additional staff,” Turner said.

Police Chief Tighe O’Meara said the video arraignments benefit both the people in jail and the police department for a number of reasons. Physical arraignments were done sparingly, but video arraignments are every Monday and Tuesday, so more people are beginning arraignment a lot faster.

Another reason is that it saves police time and is more efficient because officers are not carting people to and from the jail.

“I’m not saying that this is responsible for the statistic I’m about to tell you However, I did pull the numbers this morning and there’s a 47 percent drop from 2017 to 2018 in behavioral issues downtown,” O’Meara said. “Maybe this is an anomaly, but I do think this (video arraignment) is one of several things that have been put into place to contribute to that decrease in negative behavior downtown.”

The first video arraignment was on May 14. Since then, AMC has arraigned 23 people and resolved 43 cases with the program.

Defendants who are lodged on warrants and any other crimes that are pending can participate in video arraignments.

Turner said the program hasn’t been implemented long enough yet for the court to determine the societal effects of the video arraignments.

Turner also gave a brief presentation on the jail bed usage and described the disparity of when Ashland Municipal Court is charged for bed usage and when the circuit court is charged. She said if someone is lodged on Friday and placed specifically in an AMC bed over the weekend, AMC isn’t being charged.

The Jackson County Jail has roughly 290 beds. AMC has a contract with the Jackson County Jail for two beds.

“Unfortunately to date, we don’t know how to sort out which days our defendants are in a bed that is being paid for by the circuit court,” Turner said.

Defendants are usually encouraged to go to the Talent Work Center first, which allows them to complete their sentence and still be released to go to work during that time. However, if their charges are too severe or if the individual exhibits behavioral issues, they may be barred from the work center and sent directly to the jail.

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.