Angie Hensley-Langrel, Deputy Director of Justice Services | Office of Court Services
Seven years ago, former Chief Justice Brent Dickson established the Committee to Study Evidence-Based Pretrial Release. Since then, pretrial release was a focal point of Indiana’s Evidence-Based Decision-Making initiative and is now a crucial part of the Justice Reinvestment Advisory Council’s (JRAC) responsibilities. In 2020 the Pretrial Services Rules and Pretrial Release committees were established to guide local pretrial practices.
Pretrial Release Committee
The Pretrial Release Committee, chaired by Grant Circuit Court Judge Mark Spitzer, includes multidisciplinary stakeholder membership. The Committee members bring broad perspectives to the goals of pretrial release—to maximize public safety, court appearance, and pretrial release. This committee oversees the Pretrial Services Rules, develops technical assistance options for pretrial implementation, and reviews pretrial research reports. Judge Spitzer had this to say:
Indiana’s work in the pretrial space is the result of multidisciplinary collaborative efforts at both the State and local levels. The Pretrial Release Committee was intentionally assembled to continue those efforts to support local pretrial teams, to incorporate the latest pretrial research and best practices, and to keep Indiana on the cutting edge of pretrial in the future. Indiana’s innovative decision to pursue the certification model for pretrial, based on a tried-and-true model of success with our problem-solving courts, is sure to be replicated by other states in the future.
The Pretrial Release Committee formed subcommittees for education and data last year, and most recently established a pretrial coordinator subcommittee, which has already begun to meet and provide recommendations to the Committee.
The education subcommittee approved the pretrial staff orientation topics and helped develop an initial hearing training for local stakeholders working to implement pretrial best practices.
The data subcommittee is updating pretrial performance measures, recommending data elements for outcome measures, and creating standard data definitions. Additionally, they are exploring options to help with access to pretrial data in real time to guide local policy decisions.
The pretrial coordinator subcommittee provides a “boots on the ground” perspective to the Pretrial Committee as it vets policy proposals and best practices. Having experienced practitioners give input to the Pretrial Committee’s work will ensure recommendations of policies and procedures are reasonable, and provide an avenue to bring issues and challenges from the field to the Committee quickly.
Indiana’s pretrial release initiative includes research on key elements of pretrial practices. Since September 2019, 6 of the 11 pilot sites received their Indiana Risk Assessment System – Pretrial Assessment Tool Validation Study completed by Dr. Evan Lowder from George Mason University. The remaining validation reports are scheduled to be completed within the next year. To date, the research supports the validity of the IRAS-PAT in these jurisdictions.
In August 2020, Dr. Lowder completed research on pretrial supervision practices. This study examined supervision decisions and outcomes among jurisdictions that implemented the IRAS-PAT. The study found that adherence to evidence-based supervision produced positive pretrial outcomes. In partnership with the University of Cincinnati, Dr. Lowder applied to the National Institute of Justice for an expanded study on pretrial supervision earlier this year. The goals of the study are to develop and pilot model supervision practices focused on high and moderate risk defendants by examining service referrals related to items identified in the IRAS-PAT, use of motivational interviewing in a pretrial setting to encourage voluntary participation in services, and developing a process to measure program outcomes as a result of these strategies.
Dr. Lowder also conducted a study to evaluate the IRAS-PAT for the predictive accuracy as a function of age, sex, and race in December 2020. Overall, the research team found no evidence of predictive bias in IRAS-PAT assessments as a function of age or sex. In contrast, researchers found evidence of predictive bias as a function of race. Specifically, Black defendants classified at high risk for pretrial misconduct had lower rates of misconduct relative to high-risk White defendants. Dr. Lowder is conducting additional studies to examine ways to mitigate predictive bias in pretrial assessment.
With pretrial certification in full swing, IOCS staff continue to identify additional ways to further assist with local implementation. To address the need for sufficient staff to take on local pretrial duties, IOCS awarded $1.6 million in pretrial grants to 13 counties in 2017. Currently, 29 counties have requested grant funds from IOCS totaling $3.58 million. The Indiana Department of Correction also funds an additional $3 million for pretrial services. IOCS and IDOC have partnered to require the same eligibility criteria for pretrial grants. As of July 2021, IOCS certified eight pretrial agencies and an additional 27 agencies are working toward certification.
The Pretrial Release Committee and JRAC are collaborating to:
- develop resources and support for local Justice Reinvestment Advisory Councils
- build infrastructure to support the growing network of evidence-based pretrial services agencies
- provide continuing stakeholder education on pretrial risk and stakeholder’s roles in an evidence-based pretrial system
JRAC also plans to provide enhanced technical assistance to aid counties in forming active, collaborative policy teams, which was foundational for Indiana’s pretrial pilot sites. With many partners and a strong commitment to evaluating pretrial outcomes, Indiana’s pretrial release efforts have expanded significantly in the last seven years and continue to evolve.