Toolkit: Creating an Effective Pretrial Program

These are times of significant change for county jails and justice systems. Public Safety Realignment, the 2011 law that shifted management of people convicted of certain nonviolent, non-serious, non-sex offenses from state prisons and parole to county jails and probation, has had a major impact. More individuals are being sentenced to county jail instead of state prison, including people who violate conditions of their parole. Some county jails face limited capacity or strained resources. Combined with ongoing county budget challenges, more than ever, local leaders need effective strategies to safely manage their justice populations and reduce costs at the same time.

On average, more than 60 percent of those in local jails in California are awaiting trial. They are being detained “pretrial” while their case goes through criminal proceedings. There are models of pretrial diversion and supervision programs that can effectively manage these individuals in a community setting. Reducing the number of pretrial detainees in jails or the length of their stay can conserve considerable resources and allow the jail to meet other public safety needs. In a post-Realignment California, assessing pretrial program options is both an opportunity and a necessity.

Fortunately, pretrial program models have evolved considerably in recent decades, and there is evidence to show that they can be more successful than the money bail system at ensuring public safety and court appearance. There are many evidence-based options available to communities seeking to implement or strengthen pretrial programs. There is not one “correct” model for pretrial programs, and they can be successfully administered through the courts, probation departments, sheriff departments, county administration, independent agencies or any combination of these.

Many counties are now exploring such programs, asking critical questions about whom among those awaiting trial needs to be in jail and who can be managed successfully in the community.

This toolkit offers guidance to county officials on how to develop and operate these programs at the local level, building upon available literature on effective pretrial policies and practices. Specifically, officials will find:

• Key information about the legal framework and national standards for pretrial programs;

• How to implement a pretrial risk assessment;

• Pretrial diversion and supervision advice;

• How to assess your current system; and

• Recommendations on using data to measure and enhance pretrial programs.

Explore the complete toolkit


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