One primary responsibility of pretrial services programs is to supervise people on pretrial release when required by the court. Court-ordered supervision may include court date reminders, phone or in-person check-ins, and periodic criminal history checks.
Increasingly, innovative pretrial services leaders are adopting supportive services to promote pretrial success. These services are not court-ordered. Rather, they are voluntary and intended to support a person’s unique needs. Because supportive services are not a condition of release, people cannot be violated if they don’t participate. In many cases, they are coordinated by a pretrial services program and access available community-based services and resources.
This is the first story in a three-part series featuring pretrial services leaders who have found success and confronted challenges, no matter their zip code.
Jefferson County, Nebraska
Prior to 2019, conditions of release in Jefferson County were limited to punitive measures that largely resulted in failure for people awaiting trial. The rural southeastern Nebraska county, where the majority of crimes are drug-related, stipulated requirements such as drug tests and check-ins that didn’t promote success, and many people returned to jail.
That changed when Peggy Galloway, Jefferson County’s Diversion Services and Pretrial Release director and sole employee, began identifying voluntary supportive services for people ordered to pretrial supervision. “You can’t expect someone who has been addicted to drugs for years to suddenly be drug tested twice a week and pass without any support services in place,” she said.
Galloway met with county officials to explain the need for assistance with substance use and mental health. She researched other helpful resources to address basic needs such as applying for Medicaid, finding a job, or obtaining a driver’s license. “I just decided that I was going to try and find a way,” she said.
The addition of supportive services has been welcomed. Over half of the people ordered to the pretrial program enrolled in some voluntary service, like substance use treatment or mental health therapy. Galloway is collecting data to evaluate the impact, but said the vast majority of people accepting supportive services attended their court hearings.
“I am tracking the numbers because I want to see that, as the years go and we’re able to put more support services in place for more people, success rates go up and we make a dent in the number of people rearrested each year,” she stated.
Complicating matters is the fact that there are no substance use treatment centers in Jefferson County, so people sit on a waitlist for a center in the eastern part of the state for three to six months. There’s a waitlist for mental health services too.
Despite the challenges, Galloway was proud to share success stories. In one case, she recounted helping a mother and father whose four kids were taken away from them. The mother was addicted to methamphetamine but recovered after a couple stays in rehab. The couple underwent marriage counseling, are saving up to buy a house, and will likely get their children back soon. “It makes me feel good to know that I was a part of that, because their lives could have kept spiraling,” said Galloway.
“You can’t expect someone who has been addicted to drugs for years to suddenly be drug tested twice a week and pass without any support services in place.”
Galloway’s path to leading Diversion Services and Pretrial Release started with similar issues in her own home. Several people in her life have battled addiction to opioids, alcohol, and inhaling fumes from household products (also called “huffing”). So when she heard that Jefferson County was starting a pretrial services program, she decided to leave behind her job as an office manager at an architectural firm. “Absolutely, I’m going to help because I know what that’s like to have a family member in that situation,” she said.
The pretrial program was new to Jefferson County and strictly focused on court-ordered supervision. Galloway began as a case coordinator whose job was to administer drug tests and put people on electronic monitoring. If they made a mistake, they went back to jail. Galloway took it upon herself to learn more about supportive services, which wasn’t easy in her rural county. “As difficult as it was for me to find resources, I could only imagine how hard it would be for someone in the throes of addiction and dealing with the judicial system trying to find these resources to get the help they need,” she explained.
When the former director of the program left in April 2021, Galloway took over the role. Since then, she’s convinced stakeholders that a positive approach is more effective at keeping people out of jail.
Now that she’s at the helm, she’s determined to sustain and grow her department’s services. She met with the local ministerial association about the need for peer support groups in which people with similar traumas and struggles help one another. That might mean people in recovery helping people with a substance use disorder or people experiencing grief sharing their experiences. The association agreed to develop the program and is close to launching this new community resource.
She’s always keeping her eyes out for grants to fund other programs and hopes that she’ll receive federal funding for services, especially those related to treatment for methamphetamine addiction.
Regardless of future funding, she’s pleased with the operation she’s developed in Jefferson County and its impact on people’s lives.
“Most of these people don’t want to live this kind of life. They just don’t know how to get out of it,” said Galloway. “I think once they know that somebody actually cares and wants to help them, then it makes them want to help themselves a little bit more. And they know that it is possible, as long as there’s somebody on their side.”