TOWANDA - The Bradford County government is gearing up to start its new supervised bail program.

The program, which is intended to reduce overcrowding at the Bradford County jail, will accommodate up to 40 defendants at a time, Bradford County jail Warden Donald Stewart said.

Under the program, certain defendants who cannot afford to post their bail will be released to live in their homes while their case makes its way through the courts.

While living at home, these defendants will be supervised by county bail release officers, and they must abide by certain conditions, which could include having to report to the jail a certain number of times a week or being placed on electronic monitoring.

The Bradford County commissioners last week transferred two "top-notch" county employees to the position of full-time bail release officer, county Commissioner Doug McLinko said. The two bail release officers will run the program under the supervision of the jail's warden and deputy warden.

One of the two bail release officers, Todd Carr, has been working as a sergeant at the jail, while the other, Andrea Button, had been working as a probation officer for the county.

The county's maintenance department is completing the construction of an office for the bail release officers, which will be located next to the jail's lobby, Stewart said at Thursday's meeting of the Bradford County Prison Board.

Carr and Button will begin their training for the program today at the Lycoming County Prison, which also has a supervised bail program.

Bradford County Sheriff Clinton "C.J." Walters said it looks like Bradford County will have its supervised bail program up and running within a month.

To get an idea of how many inmates at the jail would be able to participate in the supervised bail program, staff at the jail reviewed the cases of the inmates who are eligible to be released on bail and determined that 10 of them would be a "good fit" for the program, the warden said.

He said he was satisfied with the number. He said that other defendants who will be directed to the program in the future will increase the number of inmates enrolled in the program.

Stewart added that the tally of inmates who would be appropriate for the program did not take into account those defendants who have paid a bail bondsman to post their bail. Many of those defendants would have wanted to enroll in the supervised bail program, because they will never get their payment to the bail bondsman - which could be thousands of dollars - back, he said.

"We have two bail release officers" who will run the program, "so we figure up to 40 prisoners" at a time can be enrolled in the program, Stewart said.

When the program is getting off the ground, though, it's expected that there will be a smaller number of prisoners - 10 to 20 - enrolled in the program, he said.

The establishment of the supervised bail program is an effort to get more defendants released on bail and thus reduce the overcrowding at the county jail, Warden Stewart has said.

Many of the inmates in the supervised bail program will be non-violent, Bradford County officials said. However, there could be inmates in the program who are accused of having committed "lesser" violent crimes, Warden Stewart said.

Lycoming County's supervised bail program, which Bradford County's program is modeled after, does not accept inmates who have been charged with attempted homicide or homicide, Stewart added.

Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller noted that all participants in Bradford County's supervised bail program are eligible to be released into the community anyway, as long as they can post bail.

Selection of inmates

Both a magisterial district judge and staff at the jail will need to approve a defendant's participation in Bradford County's supervised bail program, Stewart said.

At a defendant's arraignment, which is the court proceeding where a defendant's bail is set, a magisterial district judge from Bradford County will make a ruling on whether the defendant would be eligible or not to be in the supervised bail program, Stewart said.

The bail release officers, along with mental health staff at the Bradford County jail, will also review the defendant's case and make a decision on whether the defendant should be allowed in the program, Stewart said.

If the jail staff determined that the defendant was an appropriate fit for the supervised bail program, the magisterial district judge would have to sign a bail release form so that the defendant could enter the supervised bail program, he said.

So far this year, Bradford County's inmate population has been, on average, 190 inmates, Stewart said. The county's jail has the capacity to house 207 inmates.

Due to overcrowding at the jail, the county has had to pay to house some of its inmates in other counties' prisons during most of this year.

The level of supervision that a particular defendant would receive while in Bradford County's supervised bail program would be tailored to the defendant, Stewart said.

For example, defendants who are considered a relatively low risk would have to report to the jail a certain number of times a week, would have to undergo drug and alcohol testing if ordered to do so by a judge, and if they are working, would have to turn in proof to the county that they are continuing to hold the job, he said.

Defendants in the program who are considered more of a risk would be placed under the same type of supervision as offenders who are on probation or parole, which is a more intensive type of supervision, he said. Bail supervisors would check on these higher-risk defendants at their home and work place, and they could also be placed on electronic monitoring, the warden said. These higher-risk defendants might also have to undergo drug and alcohol testing, he said.

Only those inmates who wished to be placed in the supervised bail program will be placed in the program, Stewart said.

Defendants will still have the option of posting bail instead of participating in the program, he added.

It is hoped that eligible inmates would be released from the jail into the supervised bail program within 24 to 48 hours of arriving at the prison, the warden has said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.