IndyBar: Pretrial reform in Marion County: How is it working so far?

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By Hon. Amy Jones, Marion Superior Court

In 2016, the Indiana Supreme Court issued an order adopting Criminal Rule 26 with the goal of improving pretrial practices across the state to promote fairness and safety. The court started by encouraging trial judges to utilize an evidence-based risk assessment tool to aid in making pretrial decisions.

Marion County immediately began preparing for the change (which went into effect across the state in 2020). Marion Superior Court established a diverse working group of justice professionals to discuss the process and implementation. The group was comprised of representatives from the courts, law enforcement, prosecutors, public defenders, probation, community corrections and community-based treatment providers.

The working group was guided by the risk assessment tool as predictive of the risk of an arrestee’s failure-to-appear in court and of committing a new offense. Based on best practices, this structured approach helps eliminate disparities in the way in which bond is applied, provides judges with quantifiable data to make decisions and expedites release for low-risk offenders. Data shows it’s working—about 95 percent of those involved appear for their court hearings, and they are not arrested for new offenses while on pretrial.

But it’s important to understand the process and how we got there. In November of 2018, Marion County began its pilot project with L6 felony and misdemeanor cases that met eligibility requirements. The Pretrial Services Unit was formed and probation officers began interviewing arrestees using the Indiana Risk Assessment System Pretrial Assessment Tool (IRAS-PAT). Upon completion of the interview, a report was provided to the court to assist in making release decisions. The report also included a recommendation for release based upon a release matrix developed by the local working group. The process took roughly a year to implement and by September of 2019, in-custody interviews for eligible arrestees began following the booking of an individual in Initial Hearing Court.

Based on the volume of arrestees in Marion County, additional staff was required. The court was awarded grant funding for 12 full-time probation officers assigned solely to pretrial efforts in 2020 to ensure all individuals arrested for a L6 felony or misdemeanor completed the assessment prior to their initial hearing. Those arrested with a pending case, probation, community corrections or parole bypassed the screening and were instead sent directly to a judge.

Generally, bond is set based upon two specific pieces of information: the highest charge listed on the officer’s arrest report and the pretrial services report. However, judges still retain discretion to set a bond amount outside of the bond schedule. Additionally, the Prosecutor’s Office can always petition the court for a greater than standard bond based on the specific circumstances of that case.

Ultimately, some individuals are released on their own recognizance without pretrial services, while others are eligible for release in addition to pretrial services that range from court reminder texts, phone calls, monthly check in appointments with a pretrial release officer, referrals to services, alcohol monitoring, GPS monitoring or home detention. Other individuals may require the posting of a bond in addition to pretrial services.

What does the data show so far?

Since 2019, individuals placed on pretrial supervision for any range of services have done quite well. As of July 21, 2021, 2,773 cases are being supervised by the program. There are 476 on pretrial alcohol monitoring, 941 on GPS and 428 on pretrial home detention. From September 24, 2019 through June 30, 2021, those individuals assigned to pretrial services have shown a 95.2 percent appearance rate for court hearings and a 94.39 percent safety rate, which means they have completed supervision with no new offenses while on pretrial supervision.

Although reform is very much in the early stages, we will continue to review the data, but so far, we are encouraged by the initial finding. This approach balances the constitutional rights and presumption of innocence of the accused with the public safety of the community.•

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