Candace Nenow exchanges friendly greetings with officers these days when she walks through the halls of the Salt Lake County jail.

But things weren't always so friendly.Nenow is director of the county's pretrial release service, through which many suspected criminals are set free without posting bail.

From its start, the service was at odds with law enforcement. Now, although generally accepted, the service still is not entirely free from controversy. Bail bondsmen, some police officers and county officials are among its chief critics.

Since it began in the early 1970s, the pretrial release service has almost single-handedly destroyed a thriving bail bond industry and prompted criticisms that it is too lenient on suspects.

County taxpayers are spending almost $1 million this year for the program, which originally was funded entirely by the federal government.

However, law enforcement officials who once opposed to the service agree that without pretrial the county jail would be overflowing, with demands several times greater than its capacity.

That doesn't keep some officers from grumbling.

"Cops may get concerned at times," said Jail Capt. Joe Gee. Officers feel dismayed when they go to great lengths to arrest suspects only to see them walking the streets again a few hours later.

"But there are very few areas in the country that don't have a pretrial service. Without pretrial, we would have a catastrophe population-wise in the jail. There is no way we could function without it," Gee said.

Once treated with contempt by jail personnel, pretrial workers now have their own offices at the jail booking center. Suspects are routed to them as soon as they are fingerprinted and photographed.

Minor offenders usually are released on the spot. People suspected of more serious crimes are released if a judge gives permission. Suspects then are told to make regular checks with pretrial officials, whose job it is to make sure the suspects show up for trial.

Suspects are forced to stay in jail if they have no local address or if they are considered a threat to society. But judges have released many murder suspects through the years, including Mark Hofmann, who later was convicted of two bombing deaths.

"There are homicides and then there are homicides," said 3rd Circuit Judge Eleanor Van Sciver, who said she normally follows the recommendations of pretrial workers when they ask that certain suspects be released.

"A lot of homicides involve people who know each other," she said. "It's a heat-of-the-moment, passionate thing. The man who comes home to find his wife in bed with another man and commits a homicide is not likely to be a danger to society if we let him out through pretrial."

Nenow said the program is successful and saves taxpayers money.

"There has to be a presumption of innocence," she said. "It's a lot cheaper for us to screen (suspects) and supervise them than to keep them in jail. The people are poor, for the most part. It is hard for them to make bail."

Nenow said only about 6 percent of the people who are released try to run away.

"A lot of the 6 percent are people who think they can get away with it - young people who haven't been around long enough to know better. If they are caught again, they are never released again through pretrial in their lives," she said.

But Gary Walton, owner of Beehive Bail Bonds - one of only three remaining bail bond businesses in Salt Lake City - believes more than 6 percent are failing to appear. He also thinks that pretrial sometimes releases the wrong people.

A good example, he said, is 36-year-old Kathleen Goodenough. She was arrested in connection with a shoplifting Feb. 15, released through pretrial the same day, arrested again for shoplifting March 1, released through pretrial March 2 and arrested again for shoplifting and drug charges March 19.

Court officials said Goodenough now is serving a 60-day jail sentence.

"The girl couldn't have made bail. She would've stayed in jail (without pretrial)," Walton said. "How many times does she have to show her unwillingness to live within society's rules?

"It's like a turnstile. She thought she had the key to the jail."

Walton said other suspects are released despite long records of previous arrests and convictions.

Nenow said Goodenough probably was released twice because of an overcrowded jail and the fact she was a mother with children to look after, among other things.

"We are concerned about re-arrests," she said. "But the jail is so crowded, we go out of our way on less serious charges."

Nenow said Goodenough has been in and out of trouble for years.

"She's been in the system since I've been here," she said. "We may end up releasing her again some day."

Kathy Rawson, a pretrial screener who interviews newly arrested people, said she and other screeners follow a liberal point system to determine which people should be released.

"I meet a lot of different people. Not just the bums," she said. "One-half to two-thirds of them are released."

Although pretrial releases have hurt the bail bond business, Walton is not opposed to the program. But he thinks law enforcement officials should operate it. He believes it is wrong, under the current system, to ask taxpayers to pay to release suspects after already paying large amounts for county prosecutors, police officers and a jail.

Some county officials share his concerns, including County Commissioner Dave Watson.

Watson wanted to cut pretrial's budget this year but was outvoted by the other two commissioners. The problem is that pretrial, the county attorney's office and the sheriff are separate entities that provide different parts of the same service, he said.

"Pretrial is one of those offices that was totally federally funded when it started and now we've asked the citizens to pick up the burden of it," he said earlier this year. "I think they need to find ways of working closer with the sheriff and the (county) attorney.

"There is no question the jail overcrowding would worsen without pretrial services. But I think we can figure a way to get more bang for our dollars."

Ironically, Watson was arrested for drunken driving and released through pretrial services not long after making the statement.

Supporters of the program agree some changes are needed.

Van Sciver said suspects who eventually are convicted should be forced to pay for their pretrial costs.

"We make convicts pay what they can for the use of a court-appointed attorney," she said. "They (criminals) ought to pay for the services they receive from society."

Meanwhile, pretrial screeners have moved from drab rooms to airy, clean offices that were designed as part of the jail's new booking center.

Nenow and her staff are a striking contrast to the average police officers. The screeners, with an average case-load of about 90 people at any given time, seem to genuinely care about the people they help get out of jail.

"We don't hire people unless they like people," Nenow said. "We feel passionately about what we're doing. It's amazing how you can get to know 90 people so well."