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

FAYETTEVILLE -- Federal assistance will be made available as Washington County officials look for ways to improve the county's criminal justice system.

Lori Eville, with the National Institute of Corrections, an agency within the federal Department of Justice, told county officials Friday their request for technical assistance will be approved although the details are not final.

Eville said the assistance will include experts to facilitate the work of the county's Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.

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

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 last week approved a resolution asking 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.

Eville and Michelle Cern with the National Center for State Courts helped steer the Coordinating Committe through its initial meeting.

Eville said the first task for the group is to establish the rules and guidelines the panel will operate under. That will include selecting a chair and deciding how much staff support the group will need. The committee will also consider issues identified in the National Center for State Courts study and set up subcommittees or work groups to examine those issues.

The study looked at overcrowding in the county's Detention Center and how people are processed through the criminal justice system.

The study recommended some changes including trying to reduce the number of people being detained before trial and how the county can provide services to make sure people who are not detained still meet their obligations to appear in court. Services for individuals with mental health or substance abuse were also mentioned, as were issues of homelessness and lack of transportation.

Cern said the Coordinating Committee can address those kinds of issues by improving communication and the sharing of information among the different parts of the system.

"Coming together as a CJCC gives you the view that's not just your agency, not just your silo," Cern said.

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What’s next

Washington County’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee is set to meet again at noon Nov. 20 using the Zoom remote meeting technology. Members of the public will be able to sign on for the meeting by clicking on the listing for the meeting on the calendar at the county website at washingtoncountyar.gov when the meeting is posted.

Source: Staff report

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