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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette FILE PHOTO The exterior of the Washington County jail.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington County officials, federal advisers and a consulting firm agreed Friday to look at hiring staff to support a new committee.

The county's Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee met with Katie Green, from the National Institute of Corrections, and Michelle Cern, with the National Center for State Courts. Both said hiring staff is the next step.

"It's key," Green said. "It will be really helpful in getting you to a place where you're going to be able to work on the initiatives identified by the National Center for State Courts."

A study by the National Center for State Courts recommended the county form the Coordinating Committee to develop plans and collaborate with the county to help with decision-making. The study was approved last year by the Quorum Court.

The committee includes judges, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, public defenders, probation officers, Quorum Court members, victim support advocates, mental health professionals and community leaders.

The Quorum Court has asked for assistance from the National Institute of Corrections, Community Services Division, to provide technical assistance and recommendations for ways to improve the county's justice system and pretrial services.

The group is part of the U.S. Department of Justice, under the federal Bureau of Prisons, and the services it provides are free.

Green and Cern both said having someone to facilitate the committee meetings is important. While the committee is made up of people from the different areas of the criminal justice system, the study recommends bringing someone from outside the group to act as the facilitator.

"The facilitator is the motivator, the person who makes all this work," Cern said.

Green said she has job descriptions for the position from committees in other locations and suggestions for structuring the committee as well, including forming subcommittees and work groups to focus on specific areas such as pretrial services. She said she will provide that information to the county next week so the committee members have it for their December meeting.

The group recognized the need to have a source of money for the committee and any recommendations it may come up with. Lance Johnson, justice of the peace for District 1, said the Quorum Court needs more details and specific information about the cost before it can consider funding.

"We've got to have an idea what we're going to spend this money for," Johnson said. "I suspect the money will be available once we know what we're going to do."

Prosecutor Matt Durrett said the Quorum Court needs to be aware proposed changes or expansion of services may require money.

"In going through the final report, lots of recommendations, pretrial services for example, a lot of them are going to require funding. Some of them are going to require a lot of funding."

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What’s next

Washington County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee is scheduled to meet at noon Dec. 18 to continue work aimed at making the criminal justice system more efficient and responsive to the needs of the community. The panel was formed as a result of an effort by the Quorum Court to find solutions to crowding in the county’s jail that don’t require expanding the jail.

Source: Washington County

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