Problematic Behavior or Activity
As part of Yamhill County’s participation in the National Institution of Corrections (NIC) Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM) initiative, the county focused on improving its pretrial program. At the start of the EBDM initiative, approximately 45 percent of the local jail population was awaiting trial. Since implementing program improvements, pretrial jail population is at approximately 35%. The county hoped to promote cost-effective practices and ensure that defendants are released or held in jail appropriately.
Impact on the Community
Research indicates that great harm may be done to defendants who are unnecessarily detained before trial. Detained defendants can suffer loss of employment and housing, become separated from loved ones, experience family disruption, have higher odds of recidivism and receive harsher sentences than similarly situated defendants who are released from jail before a trial. The mission of the Yamhill County Pretrial Justice Program is to promote pretrial justice for people who are accused of committing crimes and for people and communities who have been harmed by crime. The program operates on the presumption that individuals are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. The Pretrial Justice Program aims to maximize community safety and help ensure a defendant’s court appearance by making informed jail release decisions, namely, deciding which defendants may be released safely into the community before their case is resolved.
The Yamhill County pretrial services officer (PSO) conducts interviews and risk assessments on all detained defendants within 24 hours of initial arrest and booking at the local jail, for the purpose of providing a release recommendation to the court at initial arraignment. The key elements of the Pretrial Justice Program include:
- assessment of risk;
- assessment of community stability and other factors, as determined by Oregon statute;
- communication of information and written report of release recommendations to the court;
- monitoring of any pretrial release conditions imposed by the court;
- review of those held in jail pretrial on a regular basis for additional release consideration; and
- performance measurements for program improvements as needed.
Based on Research
Pretrial jail release decisions should be guided by risk assessment as opposed to crime severity and subjective judgment alone. Additionally, research and local data analysis tell us that most pretrial defendants present low to moderate risk for failure to appear in court and criminal behavior while released. Research also reveals that over-monitoring or keeping low-risk defendants in jail may actually increase their risk. Individuals held in jail pretrial are more likely to receive longer incarceration sentences than those defendants released pretrial. Along with this notion, research also shows that court reminder systems appear to be the most effective evidence-based practice to increasing appearance in court.
Suggested Research and Resources:
- Evidence-Based Decision Making Initiative framework
- National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies Prerelease Standards
- State of the Science of Pretrial Risk Assessment
- Measuring What Matters
- Pretrial Criminal Justice Research
With state Justice Reinvestment Program 2015-17 funding, the program added one additional full-time PSO and one half-time case aide (bringing to 2.5 the total FTE in the pretrial unit). These additional staff assist with pretrial supervision accountability through swift and certain responses to pretrial misconduct and reinforcement of compliant behavior; notification of court dates for those on pretrial release through a Fieldware-contracted automated system; and development and implementation of a pretrial data information system.
October-December 2015 Pretrial Outcomes:
- Total pretrial interviews completed: 270
- PSO recommended jail release: 107 (39.6% of total interviews)
- Judge released: 79
- Release concurrence rate: 73.8%
- Detention concurrence rate: Unavailable this quarter
Pretrial Appearance Rates:
- Scheduled pretrial court appearances: 968
- Defendant appeared as ordered: 929 (96% appearance rate)
- Defendant failed to appear (FTA) in court: 39 (4% FTA rate)
- Beginning baseline FTA rate before project: 17%
Pretrial Jail Population:
- Daily average total population: 201
- Daily average pretrial population: 74 (36.8%)
- Beginning baseline pretrial population before project: 45%
Critical Success Factors
NIC EBDM core principles (framework document):
- The professional judgment of criminal justice system decision makers is enhanced when informed by evidence-based knowledge.
- Every point of interaction in the justice system offers an opportunity for harm reduction.
- Systems achieve better outcomes when they operate collaboratively.
- The criminal justice system will continually learn and improve when professionals make decisions based on the collection, analysis, and use of data and information.
It was important to develop a local policy team, including representatives from the court, the district attorney sheriff’s offices, the Board of Commissioners, defense counsel, victim Services, the Health and Human Services Department, the Community Justice Department, and a community member, all of whom were aided by a technical adviser. Information about evidence-based practices via the NIC Library, the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies, the American Probation and Parole Association, and other pretrial organizations was also valuable. Pretrial considerations regarding detention, release, and imposed conditions upon jail release should be based on risk level and individualized per case. Data collection and analysis of outcome measures is essential.