Written by Kathy Rowings, Justice Associate.
Pretrial decisions determine mostly everything. That observation was made by Caleb Foote, law professor and activist, in 1956, and 55 years later is still the consensus among Attorneys General, Chief Justices, legislators, researchers, practitioners, and advocates. Between June 2010 and June 2011, county and local jails admitted nearly 11.8 million individuals, 53 percent of whom remained incarcerated because they could not make bond, according to the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF). Twenty-one percent of these inmates could not make their bond of $1,000 or less. When these individuals cannot make bond, they must remain in the jail until their trial, at a cost to counties of $9 billion per year.
This ongoing detention can lead to a higher risk of unemployment, increased odds of becoming delinquent on child support and other recurring payments, and a greater likelihood of recidivating upon release. Additionally, LJAF found that an individual who is detained for his/her entire pretrial period is 444% more likely to be sentenced to jail than an individual who is released pretrial, and 278% more likely to get a longer jail sentence – again increasing the cost to counties and the collateral consequences to individuals.
With these costs in mind, NACo, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the National Center for State Courts co-sponsored a Forum on Pretrial Reform: Managing Risk, Achieving Justice.
The Forum, held by the Public Welfare Foundation and LJAF on October 8, 2013, brought together decision makers from around the country and across the criminal justice system to discuss advances in pretrial risk assessments.
Pretrial risk assessments replace the standardized bond system – which keeps people incarcerated based on their ability to pay instead of on their actual risk of reoffending – with a validated, evidence-based screening tool to evaluate and measure individuals’ risk factors. These risk factors are then used to objectively inform release decisions and supervision conditions to ensure public safety. The assessments take an individual’s current offense, age, prior convictions, and prior failures to appear in court into consideration in order to recommend pretrial release or detention. Many counties, like Mesa County, Colorado, have found that utilizing pretrial risk assessments can successfully reduce their jail populations and decrease jail spending without compromising public safety.
LJAF will soon be releasing a risk assessment tool that counties can use, as well as data showing the efficacy of the tool. To learn more about risk assessments and other pretrial justice reforms, please visit NACo’s Front-End Justice Reform: Pretrial Justice Resource page. This webpage contains links to past publications, webinars, articles and workshops, risk assessment tools and will feature a series of county profiles designed to share the experiences of select counties throughout the country.