Advancing Pretrial Justice
In 2019, Pierce County Superior Court Pretrial Services was chosen to participate as a Research-Action Site as part of the National Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research (APPR) initiative. Working in partnership with researchers and justice experts, this effort will result in improvements to our pretrial legal system in ways that prioritize the safety of our residents, do not contribute to discrimination based on wealth and race, and ensure that pretrial detention is reserved for those who jeopardize public safety, are at risk of flight, or interfering with the administration of justice.
We have convened a working group from across the County to focus on how we can more effectively deliver and track pretrial services. Our work is part of a five-year independent research study that will benefit our community, as well as the others in the national study program, by informing improvements in pretrial policy and practice. We plan to include a variety of voices and perspectives from the community across a diverse spectrum as we further develop our plan.
Number of individuals admitted to jail in the U.S. every year
Number of people held in jail before their trials every day - often because they can't afford bail
Spent every year to jail those who haven’t been convicted of any crime
Understanding Pretrial Services
The pretrial phase of the criminal justice process begins with a person’s first contact with law enforcement up until a charge is resolved. There are many decision points during the pretrial phase. These points start with the decision by a law enforcement officer to make contact with a person and whether to pursue action (e.g., make an arrest); and include other points in the process such as a determination by the prosecutor about whether to file criminal charges. Once charges are filed, a judicial officer ultimately determines whether the person will remain in the community pending trial or will be detained in jail pending trial.
As a Research-Action Site, we will be looking at the pretrial system holistically, and collaborate with our colleagues throughout the system to look at those decision points and identify areas where we can make improvements.
Our goal is to create a system that reserves jail for those who pose a public safety risk, increases the safety of our community, and reduces disparities based on wealth or race.
Why did you want to become a Research-Action Site?
Pierce County is always looking to improve our pretrial services to make them both more effective and more equitable. Being able to use research-based data in court will greatly facilitate that effort.
What do you hope to achieve?
We want to get more efficient through evidence-based practices. When it comes to providing pretrial services to the public, our goal is ensuring equal protection, equal access.
Why is collaboration across system stakeholders and with community partners such a key part of this work?
Our pretrial services department was developed in 2015 in collaboration with our community partners: the Prosecutor’s office, the Office of Public Defense, the Department of Corrections, and other stakeholders. We’re looking to expand those partnerships over the next five years of our participation in the pretrial project. It’s critical to have buy-in from all the key partners, and you want a better understanding of what courts are doing and why they’re doing it.
How does this initiative support your public safety goals?
We intend to provide a method of more accurately assessing defendants’ potential risk to the public before making a pretrial release decision. If you have a research-based, peer-reviewed paradigm within which to make these decisions, it is more likely to result in better decisions. It’s not just about developing a risk assessment tool, although that’s an important part of it. It must be a tool that is aligned with our county and takes into consideration our unique features. However, it is only a part of the overall decision-making process. There are other factors that go into the decision.
Why are research-based approaches to improve pretrial outcomes so important?
We expect the research will improve our ability to make an accurate assessment of risk as well as the needs of pretrial detainees. While we don’t have the ability to order drug treatment or mental health treatment, we can make them available when it’s appropriate. Those services can decrease the adverse effects of pretrial detention on defendants who, after all, are presumed innocent.
The Advancing Pretrial Justice Initiative includes the following members:
- Pierce County Clerk of the Superior Court
- Pierce County Communications
- Pierce County Department of Assigned Counsel
- Pierce County Executive
- Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney's Office
- Pierce County Sheriff’s Department
- Pierce County Superior Court
- Tacoma Police Department
Criminal Diversion Program Manager
1st Floor, Room 108
930 Tacoma Avenue S.
Tacoma, WA 98402
Phone: (253) 798-8613