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Travis Gransee: Pretrial program better serves public

March 21, 2019
Gransee

Many innovative ideas are emerging around the country aimed at improving the criminal justice system to increase public safety, reduce cost and ensure people are treated fairly within the system.

For example, people who are awaiting trial make up a large portion of those in jails across the country and this is a main reason that jails have become more crowded and added expense in the past 10 to 20 years.

One local effort to address this issue is a pretrial services program in Olmsted County, which began early this year.

After being arrested, a person appears before a judge who determines the conditions under which they could be released. Judges must make their decisions based on limited information such as offense type, level of offense, previous criminal history, and knowledge of the defendant. In most cases, bail is ordered along with a set of conditions. The monetary bail component allows those with financial means to be released into the community and those without money could remain in custody.

That system creates unintended consequences, does not adequately address public safety considerations, creates inequities, and is more costly.

Bail has become a typical requirement for a defendant to be released from custody. To ensure fairness, bail amounts are set similarly among defendants regardless of their ability to pay and without a thorough evaluation of their potential risk to the community. This results in more poor people being kept in jail, even if they are low risk to the community. Sometimes this also means that defendants with higher risk are released from custody if they can afford to pay bail.

A pretrial services program attempts to better inform these release conditions before they are set.

In 2018, the Minnesota Judicial Council launched a Pretrial Release Initiative to study tools that could help judges make pretrial release decisions. As a result, a new statewide pretrial evaluation form and Minnesota Pretrial Assessment Tool (MNPAT) is available to ensure judges have the most accurate, objective and useful information to make pretrial release decisions.

Olmsted County Community Corrections has now created and implemented its own pretrial services program in collaboration with the Third Judicial District, the Olmsted County Attorney’s Office, the Olmsted County Sheriff’s Office, and the Third District Public Defenders Office.

The goal of the program is to increase public safety, ensure court appearances, and make the best decisions regarding defendants being released while awaiting trial. The program will provide a risk assessment tool to make better educated decisions and then provide varying levels of supervision based on the risk of clients who are released from custody.

As the program continues to evolve, our vision would be to remove monetary bail from consideration in pretrial detention decisions and prioritize public safety by focusing on risk assessment

Innovation is important when it aligns with research related to best practices. The pretrial services program is an example of innovation and Olmsted County Community Corrections is thankful to be a part of this new program serving our community.

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