CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Mecklenburg County has been awarded a $2 million dollar grant aimed at reducing the number of people locked up in jail.
The grant is from the John D and Catharine T, MacArthur Foundation and will be paid out over the next two years with a goal of reducing the jail population by 13 percent.
Mecklenburg County has to date in 2017 an average daily jail population of 1,611.
The hope of the foundation is to avoid an increase in the population to prevent overpopulation from becoming a serious problem.
“Most of the people who are in our jails are being held pre-trial before there has been a determination that they have in fact committed a crime," said Judge Elizabeth Trosch.
Laurie Garduque from the MacArthur Foundation says many pre-trial defendants are locked up because they can’t afford to post a bond.
Others she says are there because of mental health or drug-related illnesses.
Said Garduque, “We don’t want jails to be poor houses. We don’t want jails to be mental health hospitals or drug treatment centers.”
The $2 million dollar grant will pay for a new, automated system that will provide magistrates and judges a quick picture of what a defendant can reasonably post as bond.
Judge Trosch says those on bonds usually show up for court as required.
“Those folks we are releasing are appearing in court at a rate of 90-percent of the time and they are not recidivating,” she said.
The grant will also be used to fund a text-messaging system to remind someone of their next court date in advance, in the hope avoiding sending someone to jail who may simply have forgotten.
“Just like many of us who forgot about that dentist appointment we didn’t really want to go to, when you get the text message, it gives you the opportunity to make those arrangements,” said Judge Trosch.
The grant awarded to Mecklenburg County is part of the foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, a more than $100 million national initiative to reduce over-incarceration.