Pretrial Release producing expected results

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Chronicle Tribune on 01/27/2019 by Spencer Durham

Ten months into piloting a pretrial release program, Grant County officials are seeing the outcome they wanted – defendants showing up to their court date.

Grant County was one of 11 counties selected to pilot a pretrial release program that helps judges make more informed decisions on who they release. The program began on March 5 last year.

In the rules, each arrestee is evaluated with an evidence-based risk assessment that includes basic questions about arrest charges and the person’s history. The arrestee then appears in court along with their public defender, pretrial service officer and a prosecutor.

The prosecutor argues whether the suspect should be released or recommends a bail amount. The public defender and prosecutor then discuss with the judge whether to release the defendant or set certain pretrial conditions, such as providing a level of supervision, or holding the defendant in jail on bond or until the trial.

End of 2018 data about the program presented Wednesday at the Community Corrections Board showed Grant County has had fewer pretrial failures – suspects not showing or being arrested on a new offense – than expected.

No low risk cases had a pretrial failure, only 2 percent suffered a failure for moderate risk cases. High risk cases suffered a 14 percent failure rate.

Probability percentages given for the program were at five percent for low risk, 18 percent of moderate and 29 percent for high risk.

“These numbers say, yes, they can be released,” said Lakisha Fisher, pretrial release coordinator.

Of the 176 total cases released to Pretrial Services, 77 percent of defendants completed the program without failing to appear, violations or new offenses.

Though the numbers are promising it is likely that those percentages will increase as the sample size increases over time. Circuit Court Judge Mark Spitzer said Grant County was the last of the pilot counties to fully implement the program.

“(I) expect to see the numbers increase a bit,” Spitzer said. “At this point, it looks like we’ll be real close to the predicted outcomes.”

The purpose of the program, which will go live statewide in 2020, is to create a more fair and reliable criminal justice system. This is what the Indiana Supreme Court is hoping for. A committee study on pretrial release assessments suggested evidence-based risk assessments help improve public safety, reduce recidivism rates and save taxpayers money, which is what prompted the Supreme Court’s decision.

“It’s really a more principled way to make a decision,” Spitzer said of the pretrial program.

The judge said the state is moving away from a reliance on cash bond. A monetary bond can be detrimental to those with low income. Superior Court I Judge Jeffrey Todd said last year that sometimes a defendant will plead guilty, even if innocent, so they can return to work.

“The benefit is that the some people have jobs, and they can get out and get back to work,” Fisher said. “… We are moving toward an evidence-based practice. The numbers are showing that bond isn’t the reason why someone shows up (to court) or not.”

“That’s the benefit for having a preventive detention … It’s a more straightforward way of making decisions,” Spitzer added.

Part of defendant’s release can include a requirement that the defendant take a shot of Vivitrol, which reduces opiate cravings.

Reducing opiate craving in exchange for release helps some defendants get help sooner, rather than just sitting in jail.

“This is a program that helps get those services started,” Fisher said.

Spitzer said other counties are seeing similar results to that of Grant County.

“There’s nothing in this data that would cause me to say we need to back out,” he said.