A group of elected officials and department heads throughout the city, county and state are working together to make Clinton County’s justice system work more efficiently and more effectively.

Brian McKenrick, coordinator of the Clinton County Justice Coordinating Commission  attended Thursday’s Clinton County Board of Supervisors meeting to discuss what this committee has done to try to improve the criminal justice system. Chairman John Staszewski told the public that the county created McKenrick’s position as a result of over-crowding issues Clinton County Sheriff Rick Lincoln had at the jail.

The jail has 44 spaces. However, often all of the beds cannot be used because the staff has to keep different genders, juveniles or mentally ill prisoners separated. Lincoln said during one year, the county paid $430,000 to other counties for housing prisoners, plus the cost of transporting them back and forth.

McKenrick and the CCJCC have worked on finding ways to decrease overcrowding, liability issues and costs to the taxpayers. One thing the CCJCC has done is start a reminder card program. McKenrick said many individuals forgot their review hearing court dates. They would miss the hearing and end up in jail. Now a postcard is sent as a reminder.

McKenrick also monitors the jail population to make sure those being detained need to be there. He said most of the jail population have not been convicted, but have only been charged. He said the purpose for keeping people in jail is to make sure they appear in court and to ensure public safety. If they are not a flight risk or a danger to the public, McKenrick asked why keep them in jail and make them serve their sentence before they are convicted.

The county jail also now has a new contracted service to provide health care professionals for inmates. When an inmate claimed they were sick and wanted to go to the hospital, Lincoln previously depended on jail staff to make the determination. He said it can be expensive if they make wrong decisions and the county wants to prevent taxpayers from being victim of a lawsuit. The jail now has a nurse to check on inmates’ complaints, as well as a doctor who can be called if a person claims to be ill. Lincoln said this transfers the burden of liability from the county to a healthcare professional.

He said their prescription costs have also gone down since the doctor has told them what medications are necessary and which ones are not.

McKenrick has recently applied for grant funding to put on two training sessions for law enforcement in mental health first aid. This training will help law enforcement and providers recognize signs of mental illness and a mental crisis, as well as how to best respond to them.

McKenrick said the CCJCC is continuing to find ways to give inmates tools to become successful in society once they get out, rather than just putting them in jail and forgetting about them. Lincoln said the county has McKenrick to help make sure when a person comes out of the justice system, “they come out as a better citizen, not a better criminal.”