Deschutes County will soon discontinue the practice of monitored probation for most misdemeanor cases — a policy shift intended to ease an overworked justice system that could also lower high costs paid by defendants.

In a letter last week to Bend’s three contracted public defense firms, Wells Ashby, presiding judge of Deschutes County Circuit Court, wrote the court will soon begin transferring defendants on monitored probation to unmonitored, or “bench” probation.

“The Court does not have the resources to actively review cases for compliance of conditions imposed upon a defendant,” Ashby wrote in an email bearing the names of Deschutes County’s seven circuit court judges.

Probation is a form of court-ordered supervision often employed in lieu of incarceration. Common conditions include paying restitution to victims, performing community service and attending substance-abuse classes.

Monitored probation in Deschutes County has been contracted in recent years to Deschutes Monitoring Services, a private entity founded in 2012 by Sally Pfeifer.

Under the new policy, which goes into effect April 1, defendants will still be required to complete all conditions of their probation, but they’ll largely be on their own to do it. If noncompliance is discovered, it will still be reported to the District Attorney’s Office and could result in a new criminal charge of violating probation.

The policy shift will affect the hundreds of Deschutes County residents currently on monitored probation. The exception will be defendants facing charges associated with domestic violence, such as stalking, violating a stalking order and harassment. Those instances will be handled case-by-case, and supervision, if it’s required, will be handled by the Deschutes County Department of Community Justice.

Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said with less monitored probation, his office will likely pursue fewer probation violation charges. But he said he supports the policy shift given the court’s lack of resources.

“I like the focus on crimes of domestic violence, because of the risk of serious injury or death we see in those crimes and the ways those crimes escalate,” Hummel said.

Local defense attorneys, whose clients are required pay $45 per month to Deschutes Monitoring, support the new policy.

Shawn Kollie said with probation terms often stretching longer than a year, his clients end up paying between $600 and $800 in probation monitoring costs.

This is money clients shouldn’t have to pay, said Tom Crabtree of Bend defense firm Crabtree & Rahmsdorff.

“The prior system was a revenue stream for the contract holder and didn’t provide any real benefits to our clients,” Crabtree said. “The new system is what bench probation is meant to be from the beginning.”

“I’m glad to see it go,” said Kollie, of Bend firm Kollie Law Group. “I think that this new policy makes sense and removes another entity — and huge financial burdens — from the probation population.”

For an average client, Deschutes Monitoring typically makes a monthly call to Central Oregon Evaluating Services, to ensure clients are up to date on their substance abuse treatment, and to Deschutes County’s Community Service division.

Across Oregon, misdemeanor convictions outnumber felonies by nearly 2 to 1. Retired Oregon district attorney Josh Marquis sees potential problems with Deschutes County’s new rule.

“If someone is on probation for vandalism or theft of under $1,000, this change means that until and unless they are arrested again, nobody will ensure they 1) repaid the theft they were convicted of, 2) get treatment for drug/alchohol/anger management and 3) stay away from the victim.”

Marquis said the only real solution to an overworked justice system isn’t removing supervision requirements — it’s increasing funding to county community corrections programs.

“Frankly, it is the DA’s office that should be advocating for the monitoring of defendants,” he said. “If you fail to do so, your stats may look good, i.e., show very little probation violation, but it’s a false sense of security.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0325, gandrews@bendbulletin.com

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