New tether program allows Shiawassee County inmates avoid jail before trial

Published: Mar. 18, 2021 at 7:19 PM EDT
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SHIAWASSEE COUNTY, Mich. (WJRT) - A new program through the Shiawassee County Circuit Court is allowing some criminal defendants to stay out of jail while they wait to go before a judge.

It’s called Scout and it just started last week after county commissioners approved the program.

It’s been just a little over a week since Shiawassee County Circuit Court began a new tether program for defendants that would keep them under house arrest rather than behind bars. It’s called SCOUT, which stands for Shiawassee County Observation Under Tether.

“Sometimes it’s not always fair to deny someone access to bail because they don’t have the money to post it, and economical disadvantages isn’t always a fair basis to deny someone bail,” said Shiawassee County Circuit Court Judge Matthew Stewart.

He backs the program 100%, saying it allows defendants to do what they need to do before going to court, such as mental health or substance abuse treatments or going to work.

“Accountability is imperative when it comes to recovery from substance use and even dealing with mental health,” said SCOUT Coordinator Sari Colbry.

Tether programs are nothing new in the court system. But Stewart said those kinds of programs are typically used after a criminal has been sentenced. With SCOUT, the tethers are used prior to someone going to court when they otherwise would be in jail.

The court is currently leasing five tethers, which each cost $8 a day to operate. That expense is taken care of by the county and not the defendant.

“Folks with mental health disorders, the last place they need to be is sitting in jail not getting anything done, not seeing a counselor or perhaps not getting their medication,” Stewart said. “And too for some nonviolent offenders that could be doing a better job out in the community than sitting behind bars.”

SCOUT program participants are chosen by the court. Officials hope to keep the program permanently.

Shiawassee County voters turned down a millage request to build a $37 million jail in 2019. The request called for the county to pay $1.64 million a year over 20 years to fund construction.

Sheriff Brian BeGole has said in the past that the current jail has a number of problems from infrastructure to overcrowding and a new facility is desperately needed. The aging jail has been dealing with several ventilation and plumbing problems for months.

BeGole said the new jail would have housed the entire sheriff’s department and would have included a mental heath and addiction recovery program.

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