Advancing Pretrial Justice
We have convened a working group from across the County to focus on how we can more effectively deliver and track pretrial services. Our work is part of a five-year independent research study that will benefit our community, as well as the others in the national study program, by informing improvements in pretrial policy and practice. We plan to include a variety of voices and perspectives from the community across a diverse spectrum as we further develop our plan.
Number of individuals admitted to jail in the U.S. every year
Number of people held in jail before their trials every day - often because they can't afford bail
Spent every year to jail those who haven’t been convicted of any crime
Understanding Pretrial Services
The pretrial phase of the criminal justice process begins with a person’s first contact with law enforcement up until a charge is resolved. There are many decision points during the pretrial phase. These points start with the decision by a law enforcement officer to make contact with a person and whether to pursue action (e.g., make an arrest); and include other points in the process such as a determination by the prosecutor about whether to file criminal charges. Once charges are filed, a judicial officer ultimately determines whether the person will remain in the community pending trial or will be detained in jail pending trial.
As a Research-Action Site, we will be looking at the pretrial system holistically, and collaborate with our colleagues throughout the system to look at those decision points and identify areas where we can make improvements.
Our goal is to create a system that reserves jail for those who pose a public safety risk, increases the safety of our community, and reduces disparities based on wealth or race.
Why did you want to become a Research-Action Site?
Pierce County is always looking to improve our pretrial services to make them both more effective and more equitable. To have some research-based data in court would greatly facilitate that effort.
What do you hope to achieve?
We want to get more efficient through evidence-based practices. In providing pretrial services to the public, it’s all about ensuring equal protection, equal access.
Why is collaboration across system stakeholders and with community partners such a key part of this work?
Our pretrial services department was developed in 2015 in collaboration with our community partners: the prosecutor’s office, the office of public defense, the department of corrections, and other stakeholders. We’re looking to expand those partnerships over the next five years of our participation in the Arnold Ventures project. You want buy-in from all the major players, and you want a better understanding of what courts are doing and why they’re doing it.
How does this initiative support your public safety goals?
We are hoping it will provide a method of more accurately assessing defendants’ potential risk to the public before making a pretrial release decision. If you have a research-based, peer-reviewed paradigm within which to make these decisions, it’s probably going to result in better decisions. It’s not just about developing a risk assessment tool, although that’s an important part of it. It has to be a tool that’s normed to our county and takes into consideration our unique features. And it’s only a part of the overall decision-making process. It’s not a computer where if you get a certain score, you get out. There are other factors that go into the decision.
Why are research-based approaches to improve pretrial outcomes so important?
Hopefully the research will improve our ability to make an accurate assessment of risk and needs of pretrial detainees. While we don’t have the ability to order drug treatment or mental health treatment, but we can make them available when it’s appropriate. And those services can decrease the adverse effects of pretrial detention on defendants who, after all, are presumed innocent.
The Advancing Pretrial Justice Initiative includes the following members:
- Pierce County Superior Court
- Pierce County Clerk of the Superior Court
- Pierce County District Court
- Pierce County Sheriff's Department
- Pierce County Communications
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