14 recommendations look to reform pre-trial services programs

Los Angeles County Seal.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted this week to move forward with the recommendations from a plan to reform the county’s bail and pretrial system.  

Their motion comes in response to the “In re Kenneth Humphrey” ruling from the California Supreme Court in March that called the state’s bail system unconstitutional on the basis that poverty and relative wealth should be largely curtailed as a way to determine who should be released and who should be imprisoned before a trial.  

The various branches of the county judicial system, which include the Public Defender’s Office and the L.A. County District Attorney’s office, were tasked by the Board of Supervisors to draft a report that would bring the county into alignment with the state Supreme Court’s ruling. 

The ruling will also require that those who are on trial are held in lieu of bail unless there are no pretrial services or alternatives to incarceration available.   

Earlier this month, the top representatives for the county’s lawyers presented 14 recommendations in regard to the bail system that include everything from creating a new pre-trial services division to finding the funding and already-available resources necessary to implement the new services division to creating ways that data on the success and/or failures of such programs can be generated and analyzed.  

Pre-Trial Services Division  

The first recommendation in the report calls for a division of the county that will focus primarily on pre-trial services, connecting defendants with currently available services, as mentioned in the second recommendation on the report, and identify community-based organizations, or CBOs, for specified pre-trial services.  

“The responsibilities of this unit or division shall include contracting with community-based organizations to provide services, monitoring the quality of those services, and administrating the budget for such services,” reads the report. The report later adds, “Addressing needs will ensure (a defendant’s) appearance for future court proceedings and promote public safety.” 

These services that will be placed into a database, as per one recommendation, includes things such as text-message reminders for cases, child/elder care, food, shelter, mental health/drug/alcohol services and more.  

Another unit that was recommended for creation was the Pretrial Release Unit that will connect defendants more quickly with their representation before their arraignment. 

“A substantial problem with current detention practices is that indigent arrestees are never assigned an advocate upon arrest,” the report reads. “Instead, they just wait in jail, often for days, before they arrive in court and are given access to counsel who can then begin the laborious process of creating a release plan for that person.” 

This unit would alternatively connect individuals and defendants in the pre-arraignment process — an arraignment is the moment where a defendant enters their plea of guilty or not guilty before a trial process begins — with services. 

Bail Reform 

The report reads that under the old bail system, poverty becomes a proxy for safety and flight risk, the original reason for having a bail system that encourages people to return to court and collect the money they are owed back by the justice system.  

A major portion of the recommendations include changes to the bail schedule and bail related court procedures, citing a need to adjust the bail schedule to make it more in tune with the nation’s average and making it more affordable for those accused of crimes. The report notes that the median bail amount in California is five times higher than the national mean.  

Describing it as the need to avoid “unnecessary incarceration” for minor or technical violations, the recommendations ask for a new “general” bail schedule that takes into account socioeconomic data regarding bail affordability for detained individuals. 

Only under extreme circumstances, where alternatives cannot be found, bail can be set that a person cannot afford. The recommendations include forming a working group to develop recommendations on GPS/electronic monitoring, drug testing, in-person check ins and administrative vs. punitive responses to condition violations.  

It also calls for an assessment and determination from the previously mentioned working group — made up of the district attorney, public defender, an alternate public defender, L.A. Superior Court and relevant community-based organizations — to determine the appropriate method of determine the accused’s ability to pay.  

“Ability to pay means present ability to pay, without borrowing money, selling property, obtaining money or taking money from family or securing a bond,” the report defines. 

Data Collection & Cost Analysis  

The report also recommends that, as data collection is a “critical component” of the successful implementation of these programs, that data be collected extensively from the pretrial division and CBO’s. 

The data collected will show the results of the Pre-arraignment Pretrial Pilot, also known as Prep, and track the number of pre-trial detentions, motions, hearings, charges filed, and failure to appear, among other important data sets.  

AS for the cost analysis for each project, the individual agencies conduct a cost analysis of the implementation of the recommendations in the report.  

The Board of Supervisors voted by consent to approve the recommendations listed in the report earlier this week and expected to hear back from the working groups in the coming months. 

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