When a suspect first appears in Missoula Justice Court they are charged by the County Attorney’s office which also suggests an appropriate bail dependent on the seriousness of the crime and the danger to society the defendant might pose if released.

Since the Missoula County Jail is almost always at capacity, one of the tools that the justice system can utilize to reduce overcrowding is pretrial supervision.

Ray Reiser with Missoula Correctional Services explains the concept behind pretrial supervision.

“It’s an alternative to incarceration,” said Reiser. “It’s a means whereby judges can choose to let some folks out of jail at that pretrial stage. At that first appearance in Justice Court where a person may have just been arrested the court has that decision to either let them out or to set bail and look at continued incarceration.”

Reiser explains why the court may choose pretrial supervision over setting bail and keeping the defendant in jail.

“There are a few reasons,” he said. “One of those is its obviously a little bit less expensive for the taxpayers if we don’t have a jail that’s completely bursting at the seams and it does cost a lot of money to keep folks locked up. Then again, there’s the presumption of innocence, and when folks are charged with a crime that presumption does come into play, and should play a role in the judge’s decision making process.”

Reiser said anyone released on pretrial supervision has very distinct rules that must follow.

“The court is going to set conditions of release, and those are the rules that have to follow to stay out of jail,” he said. “My role is to monitor those conditions and if the defendant is having a difficult time following those conditions, we will bring that to the attention of the court.”

Reiser said he understands the public's misunderstanding of the program, believing that the defendant may be getting away without being punished, by again reiterating the fact that law enforcement and the justice system operate first on the presumption of innocence.

“They are innocent until proven guilty, and as such we need to look at options for release,” he said. “For some defendants, not for everyone, but for some defendants, and that is up to the discretion of the judge, as it should be.”

Probation and Parole are programs that follow a criminal conviction.

The Pretrial Supervision Office is located on Mullan Road in the Missoula County Jail complex.