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Shiawassee County’s new tether program enables inmates to avoid prison before trial

SHIAWASSEE COUNTY, Me. (WYRT) – Shiawassee County Circuit Court’s new program allows some criminal defendants to stay out of jail while waiting to go before a judge.

It’s called Scout, and it didn’t start until last week after the County Commissioners approved the program.

It’s only been a little over a week since Shiawassee County Circuit Court launched a new tethering program for defendants that keeps them under house arrest rather than behind bars. It’s called SCOUT and it stands for Shiawassee County Observation Under Tether.

“Sometimes it is not always fair to be denied bail because they don’t have the money to deposit, and economic disadvantage is not always a fair basis on which to deny bail,” said Matthew Stewart, Shiawassee District Court Judge.

He is 100% supportive of the program and says it allows defendants to do what they must before going to court, such as mental health or substance abuse treatment, or going to work.

“Accountability is essential when it comes to recovering from substance use and even managing mental health,” said SCOUT coordinator Sari Colbry.

Tether programs are nothing new in the court system. But Stewart said these types of programs are usually used after a criminal is convicted. At SCOUT, the lines are used before someone goes to court when they would otherwise be in jail.

The court is currently leasing five cables, each costing $ 8 a day to operate. These costs are borne by the county, not the defendant.

“For people with mental disorders, the last place they need to be is in jail, with nothing to do, not seeing a counselor, or maybe not getting their medication,” said Stewart. “And also for some nonviolent offenders who could do a better job in the community than behind bars.”

The participants in the SCOUT program are selected by the court. Officials hope to maintain the program permanently.

Shiawassee County’s voters turned down a Millage motion to build a $ 37 million prison in 2019. The motion called for the county to pay $ 1.64 million a year to fund construction over a 20-year period.

Sheriff Brian BeGole has said in the past that the current prison has a number of problems, from infrastructure to overcrowding, and that a new facility is badly needed. The aging prison has faced various ventilation and plumbing problems for months.

BeGole said the new prison would have housed the entire sheriff’s department and included a sanity and addiction recovery program.

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