Rochester couple sees benefit of pretrial services program

May 5, 2019

During the past four months, Ann Marie Jessen-Ford has worked hard to get her life in order after being arrested in December.

In the past, it was likely that Jessen-Ford and her longtime partner, Douglas Ray Howard, would have sat in jail waiting for their criminal cases to conclude as they would have been unable to make a monetary bail. Instead, the pair were some of the first people put on the new pretrial services program in Olmsted County.

“This made my life a little bit easier. Before, not having this in play, I was walking into it blindsided,” Jessen-Ford said.

The pretrial services program began on Jan. 2. From that date through April 19, the program has served 207 clients. Of these, 110 are on pretrial supervision at the moment, according to Travis W. Gransee, director of Dodge Fillmore Olmsted Community Corrections.

The program aims to increase public safety and ensure people return to court. But it also helps reduce costs and gives judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys more information about individuals in the program. The information is used to help make decisions regarding a defendant being released while awaiting trial.

“If we have low-risk people in jail with high-risk people, we don’t make the high-risk people less risky. We make the low-risk people higher risk. That is important for the community to consider, I think,” Gransee said.

“This notion that do the crime and do the time — that doesn’t create long-term public safety. So what this solution does, it’s right by our community,” Gransee said. “It gets low- and moderate-risk people out of custody. It gets them back to work and back to their family and back to their house and back to being the contributing person that we want them to be and at the same time, that reduces their risk by not being in custody. From a long-term public safety standpoint, having people in the community versus in custody is the solution.

“And if there is a way then to increase public safety while they are in the community, it’s making sure that somebody, whoever, in this case us, has some oversight on them,” Gransee said.

For Jessen-Ford and Howard, that meant checking in with their pretrial services agent, Nikki Niles. Niles helped connect the couple to services, reminded them of court dates and helped arrange transportation to ensure the pair would be at their hearings. Jessen-Ford also completed a chemical dependency evaluation before she was required and took advantage of services that were available to address those issues.

Being on the program instead of in custody also meant that Jessen-Ford and Douglas didn’t lose all of their belongings and were able to keep their dog, which they said is like their child.

“I lost a lot of personal things, and I may never get them back. This program kind of took the stress off and kept us focused on what we need to stay focused on and not dwell on the what ifs or woulda, coulda been,” Jessen-Ford said. “I am happy that we finally finished, start to complete, a program together.”