New Weld Justice Services Department employee helps court cut down on failures to appear in court
January 19, 2017
The Weld County Justice Services Department is a separate entity from the Weld District Attorney’s office, but the two work together often. The justice services department oversees pretrial services, such as keeping in touch with defendants leading up to their trial. It also handles probation, parole and work release.
Ruby Jaime-Soto is the oldest child in her family and when she graduated from the University of Northern Colorado in December, she was the first to receive a degree. When she started a new job Monday with the Weld County Justice Services Department, she continued to be the first. Her position is new to Weld County.
Her job is to call people who have been issued a summons to appear in court and remind them of their court date. In an average week, she may make 250 calls. The people she's calling have been ordered to appear in court for minor incidents, such as traffic tickets and misdemeanors — cases which usually only require one court appearance.
The problem, though, is most summonses are issued four to six weeks before the person actually has to be in court, long enough for life to get in the way. If someone forgets a court date, the judge issues a warrant for arrest, called a failure to appear. That means if police do have contact with the person — even for something as minor as a traffic stop — the officers have to arrest him or her.
"We have a lot of recidivism with failure-to-appear warrants," said Cpl. Matt Turner of the Weld County Sheriff's office. "That's a big reason a lot of people come back in (to the jail.)"
According to the Weld County Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, 1,731 people were booked into the jail on failure-to-appear warrants in 2015, a bit more than 16 percent of total arrests. In 2014, that number was 15 percent.
The consequences of any arrest are both personal and public. The arrestee has to spend time in jail and pay money for bail. They also face a string of future court dates. Sheriff's deputies have to house them in the jail, which saps valuable time and resources from larger, heavier cases. Turner said the estimated cost of keeping a person in the jail per day is about $100. He said people often admit to forgetting their court date and turn themselves in, but even that doesn't save time or money because deputies still have to arrest them, then book them.
So Jaime-Soto tries to reach people before that happens, even if she only leaves a voicemail or a message as a reminder. She keeps track of who she's reached and who she hasn't, and the Weld County Justice Services Department will hold onto those numbers to see if there is a drop in failure-to-appear warrants.
"People are very, very appreciative," she said. "I didn't realize how much of an impact I'm having, but in reality this is affecting so many other people."
Her job is new to Weld County but not to the justice system as a whole — both Arapahoe and Jefferson counties have an employee who calls people to remind them of court dates. The Board of Weld County Commissioners approved the new position in July 2016 after Weld County Combined Courts conducted a pilot study.
During that study last May, a court employee volunteered to call people to remind them of court dates. Of 331 people they contacted, 90 percent showed up for court; 692 defendants were left to their own devices, and only 74 percent of those showed up, resulting in a failure-to-appear rate of 26 percent.
After that, Jaime-Soto was a natural choice for the job, said Doug Erler, director of the Weld County Justice Services Department. She interned with the department during her final semester as a criminal justice student, she's bilingual, and Erler liked her energy and focus.
"I'm just getting my foot in; there's a lot of things I want to do," Jaime-Soto said. "We're kind of experimenting, but it's cool to start this position and kind of make this my own."
Later in her career, she said, she wants to work with juveniles in the criminal justice system since, as an older sibling, she's used to mentoring. For now, though, the department feels like home.
"Ruby doesn't know it yet, but she's touching a lot of different agencies," Erler said. "I'm waiting for the day a judge calls (her) and says, 'we had 50 people scheduled for court and all 50 people showed up.'"