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Pretrial Progress – and Opportunities – in California

For years, California has experienced crowding in its county jails. This problem has been exacerbated by the significant number of people detained while awaiting trial – often a majority of who is in jail, many for nonviolent offenses and who cannot afford bail. Because these large pretrial populations cost taxpayers money and take up scarce jail space (and because recent policy changes give counties more responsibility for individuals accused of or convicted of committing lower-level crimes), many California counties are now investing in their pretrial systems.

These approaches assess individual risk factors to inform whether a person should remain in jail or be released pending their trial, with or without conditions of release. County leaders, including sheriffs, chiefs of probation and judges, are considering how to best assess individual risk, incorporate this information into pretrial decision-making and effectively supervise defendants in the community to increase court appearance rates, minimize pretrial misconduct and reduce unnecessary use of jail.

In partnership with the Crime & Justice Institute at Community Resources for Justice, Californians for Safety and Justice surveyed California's 58 counties in 2015 to learn which jurisdictions utilized pretrial services, when those began, leading agencies for and elements of those programs, challenges and opportunities faced, and more. 

You can read the entire survey brief here, as well as a companion legal brief about how pretrial services work within California law, Key findings include:

• A majority of California counties now use pretrial services to manage their jail populations.
• There has been significant growth in pretrial services since the implementation of Public Safety Realignment in 2011, suggesting that the reform may have helped to drive the recent increase in
pretrial strategies.
• Probation and sheriff departments are playing the leading role in implementing and adapting these pretrial approaches.
• Counties with pretrial services in place seem less likely to be forced into early release of individuals than counties without such practices in place.
• Collaboration among agencies is not always easy but has been critical in the success and proliferation of pretrial services.
• Pretrial services have helped justice systems more broadly think about how to incorporate risk assessments into their decision-making.

More pretrial content is available on our Pretrial Solutions page: www.safeandjust.org/pretrial.

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