On Aug. 9, Calaveras County was awarded $531,000 from the Judicial Council to fund a new pretrial pilot program.
The Judicial Council is the California court system’s policy making body, and works to ensure “the consistent, independent, impartial and accessible administration of justice,” according to its website.
This year, the state budgeted $75 million to the Judicial Council in order to initiate and evaluate multiple two-year pretrial projects in local trial courts.
The Calaveras County Superior Court was one of 16 trial courts approved for the program.
“Probation has already been preparing pretrial reports for the court. This program will widen our options and enhance our supervision of people that get released on pretrial,” said Calaveras County Chief Probation Officer Samuel Leach. “So while some people were already getting released previously, this program will give us better tools and staffing to assess and supervise them.”
The pretrial pilot program aims to “increase the safe and efficient release of arrestees before trial; use the least restrictive monitoring practices possible while protecting public safety and ensuring court appearances; validate and expand the use of risk assessment tools; and assess any bias,” according to a California Courts press release.
In Calaveras County, “The court will contract with the Probation Department to perform risk assessments for pre-arraignment release on all those arrested and held in county jail (unless immediately released). Assessments will be completed within one court day of booking,” according to a fact sheet that accompanied the press release.
A list of criteria for pre-arraignment release will be set by the court, and a recommendation and recommended conditions will be provided by probation.
Once probation completes its assessment, a judicial officer will review it and make a release decision. Those not released pre-arraignment will be evaluated for release at arraignment, and reviews will occur on all court days.
“Probation staff will provide monitoring for higher risk defendants, coordinate case management data entry and provide court reminder messages and will assist with securing transportation to court for arrestees, when necessary. Monitoring services will be used only when necessary. Least restrictive conditions will be applied,” according to the fact sheet.
The county plans on hiring two deputy probation officers and one probation aide to help administer the program, Leach said.
“A well-run pretrial program creates more equitability while enhancing public safety,” Leach said. “And rather than using county general funds, we will be able to build a robust program using state funding.”
While the county already engages in pretrial releases, the new program will harness “Public Safety Assessment (PSA) to predict which people are at risk of committing a new crime prior to returning to court, as well as a risk of failing to return to court,” Leach said.
Leach said that the pretrial program wasn’t a replacement for the bail system.
“People still have a right to bail. We will probably still see some people choose to pay for bail on their own because they won’t like the restrictions and requirements of the pretrial program,” he said. “For example, they may not want to report to probation on a regular basis, submit to searches or wear a GPS ankle monitor.”
Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Skauye commented on the new pretrial programs in the California Courts press release.
“This is another example of action by the three branches of state government to address an issue of fairness and equal access to justice for all Californians,” she said. “Today, we are harnessing innovation from courts throughout the state to make our system safer and fairer to all.”