Advancing Pretrial Justice
Thurston County criminal justice system agencies are engaged in a long-term process to evaluate and improve our pretrial justice system. Law enforcement, prosecutors, public defense, the courts, pretrial services, and other county officials formed the Pretrial Justice Advisory Committee and are collaborating to study how our system currently operates and to identify opportunities to ensure it is effective, efficient, and operates with integrity. The project’s mission is to enhance public safety while simultaneously maximizing court appearance and pretrial release.
Pretrial Justice Advisory Committee
Thurston County’s Pretrial Justice System
The pretrial phase of the justice system typically begins when a law enforcement officer suspects someone of breaking the law. It ends when charges are dismissed, the person is sentenced, or the case is otherwise resolved. When a person is charged with a crime, they are presumed innocent. The U.S. Supreme Court more than 30 years ago was unequivocal in stating that “In our society, liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception.”
Read a summary of Washington State Pretrial Legal Principles.
Informed, Deliberate Pretrial Decisions
Research confirms that most people succeed pretrial. That means they attend their court appointments and are not arrested again. Yet some people are in jail not because they are likely to fail to appear in court or be arrested for another offense. Rather, their wealth—or lack of wealth— determines whether or not they remain in jail before their case is resolved.
A growing body of research shows that keeping people in jail who do not need to be there leads to higher rearrest rates once they are released. That is because pretrial detention often leads to the loss of stabilizing conditions in people’s lives, like jobs, housing, and health care. Children of people in jail experience far greater rates of delinquency, abuse, and poor school performance because the separation causes stress and instability. The Pretrial Justice Advisory Committee collaborates to advance pretrial justice that is fair, just, and promotes community safety.
Read this explanation of the Pretrial Phase in Thurston County.
Learn about the decisions pretrial agencies make that determine how a person moves through the pretrial phase: Thurston County’s Pretrial Justice System.
Improving Thurston’s Pretrial System
The Pretrial Justice Advisory Committee is working to identify policies and practices informed by the law and research, and building our data infrastructure so pretrial agencies, policymakers, and community members use data-informed information to evaluate how our system advances community well-being and safety.
Improving Pretrial Decisions
Thurston County is implementing the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), an actuarial pretrial assessment that provides research-based information about the likelihood that people will appear in court and remain arrest-free while on pretrial release. Using statistics, the assessment gives decision-makers information about how people with similar proﬁles to the person in front of them performed on pretrial release. This can help decision-makers determine appropriate release conditions.
The PSA does not dictate the outcome nor is it the only information to determine whether a person is released before trial. Judicial officers apply the law and consider evidence, such as a person’s criminal history, the nature of the current charge, the strength of the evidence against the person, and prosecutor and defense counsel arguments when making pretrial decisions.
Learn how the PSA is used in pretrial decisions: The Public Safety Assessment.
Learn more about the PSA.
Pretrial programs are an important part of an effective justice system. Locally, Pretrial Services is a department within Thurston County that provides information to the courts and counsel to help inform decisions about conditions of release for people awaiting trial. Pretrial Services staff complete a pretrial assessment when individuals are accused of a crime, and provide this information to the Court, defense counsel, and prosecutors. The focus of the assessment is to help determine the likelihood an individual will remain arrest-free while on pretrial release and appear for future court hearings. If a person is released before their trial, Pretrial Services staff may also supervise the defendant, conduct periodic check-ins, and monitor any other conditions of release declared by a judge.
Read about Pretrial Services in Thurston County.
What’s Next In Advancing Pretrial Justice
As we continue to understand and improve our pretrial justice system, we are in the early stages of gathering information to analyze how money bond is used in Thurston County. We are also working to improve data. Like many jurisdictions across the country, Thurston County’s data systems have limitations as we seek to analyze how our pretrial system works. Nonetheless, the Advisory Committee is working to improve data collection so we can better evaluate pretrial outcomes like people’s court appearance rates and arrest-free behavior during the pretrial phase. This will help all our pretrial agencies and policymakers understand how effective our system is and help inform ongoing improvements.
Mission, Vision and Values for Pretrial Justice
The Pretrial Justice Advisory Committee collaboratively articulated a vision for pretrial justice to drive our work and identify what we are working to achieve for Thurston County.
VISION: A fair and just pretrial system that protects our community.
MISSION: To enhance public safety while simultaneously maximizing court appearance and pretrial release.
- Collaboration: Commitment to actively partner in order to achieve the mission and vision.
- Accountability: Responsibility and commitment to complete the work at hand to achieve a successful outcome.
- Equity: Stakeholders are dedicated to equitably achieving a common goal, which demands compromise amongst competing perspectives.
- Fair: Equal-handed – free from bias, prejudice, favoritism, and self-interest.
- Safety: The responsibility to protect members of the community from harm inflicted through criminal behavior.
Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research
Thurston County was selected through a competitive process in 2019 by Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research (APPR) as one of six Research-Action Sites. County stakeholders received intensive technical assistance to build the capacity to use data, research, and collaborative processes to advance pretrial justice. Independent researchers study Thurston County’s improvements to understand the challenges and solutions to create equitable, just, and effective pretrial policies and practices. Learn more at advancingpretrial.org.