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Pretrial services

In line with directives from the White House, state authorities, and local officials, criminal justice agencies around the country have modified operations to comply with social distancing, travel restrictions, and mandatory health orders due to COVID-19. These policies have a significant impact on the judiciary, causing courthouse closures, the suspension of jury trials, and the halting or modification of court orders. It has required criminal justice decision makers to swiftly examine their pretrial populations and practices to comply with these modified operations.

In this webinar you will hear from decision makers who were responsible for upholding these recommendations. They will share their challenges and experiences in implementing these directives, as well as the opportunities they found for adopting long- term practice changes that focus on maximizing public safety, court appearances, and release of pretrial defendants.

Webinar Objectives:

  • Discuss the collaborative efforts among pretrial services, the courts, district attorney’s offices, and jails to manage the pretrial population during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Identify innovative approaches to support defendant court appearance and connection with pretrial service officers.
  • Highlight early challenges and opportunities.
  • Show how technology is playing a key role in the new normal.
  • Provide key resources to the field.

Moderators/Speakers:
Greg Crawford, Correctional Program Specialist, National Institute of Corrections
Lori Eville, Correctional Program Specialist, National Institute of Corrections
Spurgeon Kennedy, Vice-President, National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies

Panel Members:
The Honorable Karen Thomas, Judge, 17th Judicial District of Kentucky
Tara Boh Blair, Executive Officer, Kentucky Court of Justice, Department of Pretrial Services
Kevin Burns, Captain, San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, New Mexico
Krista Lawrence, Division Director, 11th Judicial District and Magistrate Courts, New Mexico
Jon Tunheim, Prosecuting Attorney, Thurston County District Court, Washington
Marianne Clear, Director, Thurston County Pretrial Services, Washington

This webinar aired on September 3rd, 2020.

 

image for webinar
COVID-19: How are Pretrial Service Agencies Dealing with the Coronavirus? [Webinar]

Section 2 covers the same content as Section 1

This 32-hour program is designed to enhance the leadership capacity and promote sound pretrial release practices of pretrial professionals with decision-making responsibilities. The program incorporates the National Association of Pretrial Service Agencies (NAPSA) Pretrial Release Standards with cutting-edge organizational and leadership strategies.

The program will provide participants with a collaborative learning environment for addressing the practical challenges facing pretrial release executives every day. In addition, the program will focus on enhancing participants’ knowledge and skills, strengthening networking among attendees and other pretrial professionals, and creating a learning and problem-solving environment through peer interaction and discussion between faculty and participants.

Eligibility Requirements: Pretrial release agency professionals with decision-making responsibilities and who have a minimum of one year of experience in a high-level management position.

Assurance: Please note that by applying for this program, you acknowledge that (1) you meet the eligibility requirements for the training, and (2) that your supervisor supports your application for, and attendance at, this training, if selected.

Pretrial Services programs provide crucial information to judicial officers to assist with the bail decisions and to provide supervision and services to pretrial defendants that will promote public safety and court appearance.

The role of a high functioning pretrial agency can have many positive impacts on local justice systems. By identifying risk factors through validated risk instruments and providing release options and strategies to manage the defendant’s risk pending trial, judicial officers can make informed decisions that balance the Constitutional presumption of innocence while providing protections for the community.

The Purpose of Pretrial Release

Our criminal justice system stands on two bedrock principles: that individuals accused of a crime are presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that they are entitled to a speedy trial. Yet many defendants are detained in jail before and during trial -- while they are presumed innocent -- because they cannot post bail, and, all too often, have to wait an extended number of months to see their day in court (Joint Committee on Criminal Justice - New Jersey, 2014). This can impair their access to justice as a result of a reduced ability to actively participate in planning their defense with counsel, contacting witnesses, and collecting evidence. Some low-level offenders may plead guilty, not because of their culpability, but because of their need or desire to get out of jail, particularly individuals with fragile employment which would be lost if they miss work, or single parents who need to care for their children. 

Research also shows that low-risk defendants who are detained pretrial are more likely to commit new crimes, not only while their cases are pending, but also years later. The impact of unnecessary pretrial detention also is reflected in bloated jail populations and the accompanying expenses of providing health care, meals, and other costs of incarceration. (Missouri Pretrial Best Practices, 2016)

According to those who study evidence-based teaching methods, comparing and contrasting two different objects, persons, or even fields and disciplines, such as pretrial release and probation, can have one of the greatest effects on learning. Indeed, comparing and contrasting is considered to be one of the earliest ways that we humans begin learning (going back to how we identify things in early childhood) and makes the best use of elements necessary for all effective learning methods, each of which allows us to form relationships between constructs through reasoning. In sum, comparing and contrasting is highly valuable. Nevertheless, there are three prerequisites to any compare and contrast exercise. 

This paper examines the effects of pretrial detention on case outcomes in federal criminal cases. Unlike cash-bail regimes that are prevalent in state courts, federal courts rarely use money bail as a condition of pretrial release. Nonetheless, this paper documents significant effects of pretrial detention for federal criminal defendants. Using data spanning 71 federal district courts, I present evidence that pretrial release reduces a defendant’s sentence increases the probability that they will receive a sentence below the recommended sentencing range. Pretrial release also appears to lessen the probability that a defendant will receive a mandatory minimum sentence when one is charged, but does not seem to affect the probability of facing a mandatory minimum. To address the identification problem inherent in using pretrial detention status as an explanatory variable, I exploit variation in magistrate judges’ propensities to release defendants pending trial, which allows magistrate judge leniency to serve as an instrumental variable for pretrial release. The paper also provides evidence that pretrial release affects case outcomes through two channels: first, by giving defendants the opportunity to present mitigating evidence at sentencing and second, by making it easier for defendants to earn a sentencing reduction by providing assistance to the government.

In 2016, Leslie Turner was arrested in North Las Vegas, Nevada because she failed to pay for a traffic ticket. In the months prior, Ms. Turner struggled to keep her head above water. Her son was born two months premature, which resulted in after-birth complications, and was also diagnosed with Clonus, “a condition that results in involuntary muscle spasms sometimes caused by an underdeveloped nervous system.” Ms. Turner relied on the help of her mother and Clark County Social Services after the birth of her son so that she could continue to care for her son and maintain her monthly housing expenses. However, her unpaid traffic tickets remained a problem during this difficult time. Nevada is one of thirteen states that treat traffic violations as criminal infractions. When she missed a payment, Ms. Turner called the court to explain her extenuating circumstances, but she was “told she would either have to attend court or turn herself in.”

Your Honor, Mr. Jones will come back to court. He’s lived in the same apartment with his family for years, works part-time, and is putting himself through school. He is not a flight risk. I ask that you release him and allow him to return to court on his own recognizance. 

In five years as a public defender in the Bronx, I gave that pitch — or a variation of it — hundreds of times, trying to convince judges not to set bail on people I represented. The arraignment courtroom, where people were first brought within twenty-four hours of an arrest, was nothing short of chaos. Within minutes of meeting a client, based on whatever little information I could gather in short order, I would appear in front of a judge to make a case for release. Sometimes I had strong facts on my side, such as a mother or family member in the courtroom to demonstrate that this person had ties to the community and wasn’t a flight risk. Other times, especially in cases where the person was homeless, or had multiple prior arrests, I had a lot less to work with.

The symposium highlighted promising law enforcement, prosecutorial, and judicial interventions at the pretrial stage and promoted dialogue among justice practitioners on how front-end interventions could fit within an evidence-based, harm reduction-focused criminal justice framework. As illustrated above, participants at the symposium learned about and considered various alternative approaches to increasing public safety and addressing health issues facing their communities. They also shared their experiences with—and perspectives on—implementing front-end interventions in their own jurisdictions.

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