Webinar Notes: Creating a Culture of Release


Kathy Waters, Director, Adult Probation Services Division, Administrative Office of the Courts

Tom O’Connell, Pretrial Program Manager, Administrative Office of the Courts


Purpose of Webinar/Overview:

• Initial steps towards statewide pretrial services

• Selection/implementation of a pretrial risk assessment tool

• Statewide pretrial governance and committees

• Lessons learned


Chief Justice Bales’ Strategic Agenda/Goal

• Local “champion” of pretrial reform

• Advancing Justice Together

• Improve and expand the use of evidence-based practices to determine pretrial release conditions for low-risk offenders


Court Leadership “Buy-In”

• Location: Annual Court Leadership Conference, Fall 2012

• Attendees:

– Presiding judges/court leadership judges from various levels of Arizona courts

• Presenters:

  • Timothy J. Murray, Director Emeritus, Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI)
  • Christopher Lowenkamp, Supervisory Pretrial Services Administrator
  •  Cliff Keenan, Director, Pretrial Services Agency (PSA), Washington, D.C.

• Actions:

  • Justice Bales asks attendees if interested in pretrial reform measures

    •  Judges/court leadership say “yes”
  • Development of initial project plan for Arizona (2013)


COSCA White Paper – 2012

• COSCA- Conference of State Court Administrators

• Policy paper on evidence-based pretrial release

• Purpose:

– Use findings as catalyst to move pretrial actions forward in Arizona

• Findings:

  • Economic status as significant factor in pretrial release determination

    • More accurate predictor than factors of  “risk of flight” or “threat to public safety”
  • For poor, “bail means jail”


QUOTE: “…the Chief Justices were confident that the tools that are now available would help improve the decision-making of the courts.” – Kathy Waters, Director, Adult Probation Services Division, Administrative Office of the Courts


Conference of Chief Justices Resolution – 2013

Goal: using pre-trial risk assessments in all courts


• (Evidence-based) Assessment of defendant:

  • Likelihood to appear in court
  • Level of danger to others
  • Ability to increase overall pretrial release without facing unnecessary financial conditions

• Research sources:

  • Existing framework/pretrial court assessments
  • Court governance documents
  • Current practices in all 15 Arizona counties

    • Some with pretrial practices in place, others not


• Education plan/”road map” document for Arizona pre-trial reform


Initial Project Plan: Arizona

Provide current research re: evidence-based pretrial practices to courts in Arizona

• Develop

  • Legal framework
  • Governance documents

• Work individually with each of the 15 counties

• Expand Use of validated research-based risk assessments

• Review existing pretrial services/risk assessments

• Establish education plan


By the Numbers: Arizona counties’ Pretrial Practices

“15 diverse counties, 15 diverse pretrial practices”

  • Some counties’ pretrial services within Adult Probation Departments
  • Others had pretrial monitoring and no risk assessment

• 6 counties = some level of pretrial services

• 3 counties = already using validated pretrial risk assessments

            – We didn’t want to disrupt these

• 2 counties = using risk assessments not validated locally

• 2 counties = pretrial services offered within Court Administration Departments


Additional Findings: Arizona counties’ Pretrial Practices

Bond types:

  • Money bond as primary release type of courts
  • Own recognizance (O.R.) had limited usage

• Pretrial supervision use found only in counties with pretrial service programs

• Bond schedules (amount relative to charge) used in many jurisdictions

– Result: High rate of defendants in custody on low-money bonds


QUOTE: "Even though some of the counties were providing risk assessments, they weren’t always being considered, or the courts didn’t necessarily understand what those risk assessments involved. So, as we started to talk to some of the jurisdictions about risk.” – Tom O’Connell, Pretrial Program Manager, Administrative Office of the Courts ****


Evidence-Based Practices and Risk Sample

• Risk is inherent in pretrial release

• Our system of justice requires that we take risks

• Questions of:

  • How well do we measure risk?
  • How well do we manage risk?

• Priority placed on  most-recent research in pretrial risk assessment


QUOTE: “[With] anybody that’s released, there is some degree of risk that the court is taking, so by using risk assessment as a way to help measure that risk, and by using risk assessment we are also able to manage the risk, and we wanted to research the latest pre-trial assessments with [that] seen as a priority.” – Tom O’Connell, Pretrial Program Manager, Administrative Office of the Courts ****


Arizona as Pilot Site – Laura and John Foundation PSA

• Arizona pretrial services study and Laura and John Foundation (LJAF) Public Safety Assessment (PSA)

  • LJAF seeking pilot sites for PSA at time studies were getting underway
  • LJAF wanted statewide participation in PSA

    • Commitments received from all state superior courts

• Timeline

  • December 2013: MOU signed

    • AZ to kick off pilot program in 4 superior and 1 municipal court
    • Began work with each jurisdiction and LJAF
  • Spring 2014

    • Pilot sites began use of PSA

      • Span: 1-year implementation pilot
  • January 2015

    • Project plan for statewide implementation is developed


Predictions of the LJAF PSA

• Failure to appear (FTA)

• New criminal activity (NCA)

• New violent criminal activity (NVCA)

  • New prediction offering

• Risk across diverse jurisdictions

  • Methodology: use common, non-interview dependent factors


1-Year PSA Pilot Components:

• Assistance from LJAF

  • Technical
  • Quarterly site visits
  • Monthly conference calls

• Collaboration between AOC and five jurisdictions developing:

  • DMF
  • AZ Violent Offense List

• Training

  • Stakeholders
  • Staff

• Completed June 2015

  • Currently in evaluation with LJAF


QUOTE: “…in changing a culture, we didn’t want it to look like someone else was coming into Arizona, telling us what to do. It was part of that local, ‘we are Arizona, and we support this.’” – Kathy Waters, Director, Adult Probation Services Division, Administrative Office of the Courts


Arizona Pre-trial Risk Assessment Ongoing Education Timeline


June 2014: Annual Judicial Conference

  • by LJAF and Marie Van Nostrand

• August 2014: Arizona League of Cities and Towns

• October 2014: Arizona Justice Alliance

• October 2013 and 2014: Court Leadership Conference


Data Results: Arizona Pre-Trial Defendant Population

61 percent: Amount of Arizona jail inmates who were awaiting trial (2012)


Low Money Bond Study

• One-day snapshot

• Jails in three Arizona counties

• Findings: Out of 2,674 inmates:

  • 2, 507 inmates – bond of $2500 or <
  • 1793 inmates – bond of $500 or <
  • 407 inmates – bond of $100 or <
  • 136 inmates – bond of $1 million or >


QUOTE: “Changing a culture doesn’t happen overnight, and many times, they have to hear the information again and again, and so it was important to repeat the message at every opportunity we could.” – Kathy Waters, Director, Adult Probation Services Division, Administrative Office of the Courts


Poll: Risk Assessment vs. Cash Bail Bonds

• Study conducted by Lake Research Associates for the Public Welfare Foundation

• Goal: To show Arizona judges public opinion in favor of risk assessment

• Findings:

  • 68%- support
  • 14%- oppose
  • 16%- undecided 
  • 2%- don’t know

• 43% thought risk assessment was already in place


Arizona Implementation of the PSA

• Five original pilot counties (Spring 2014-June 2015)

  • Pinal
  • Yuma
  • Gila
  • Mojave
  • Mesa (municipal only)

• Remaining 11 counties adopted PSA in 2015

• Statewide implementation- August 2016


Governance Documents – Pretrial Services

Adoption of the AJA 5-201 “Evidence-Based Pretrial Services

January 2014 via admin

• Sets governance for pretrial in all Arizona courts

  • Incorporations:

    • Research
    • Evidence-based practices

• Requires use of pretrial risk assessment tool

  • Determines defendant’s likelihood of committing a crime of failing to appear in court while on pretrial release

• Kicked off pilot use of PSA

– Eventually adoption of PSA as statewide pretrial assessment tool

• Authorized probation officers to serve warrants/make arrests of pretrial defendants

  • Limited circumstances

• Gave pretrial services ability to file report of violations of release conditions to court

  • Previously only allowed by prosecutor


Statewide “Pretrial Services Committee”

Meets four times per year

• Allows pretrial managers to present information for statewide consideration/implementation including:

  • Case management
  • Training/supervision needs
  • Data/statistics

• Established importance of pretrial provisions


Statewide Task Force on Fair Justice for All

Administrative Order 2016-16, March 2016

• Fair use of fines and fees

  • Consequences of non-payment
  • Avoiding jail time for non-payment

• Core values

  • Release decisions focused on protecting public
  • Admonish jailing for failure to pay fines/court-assessed sanctions
  • Assist individuals in court obligated compliance
  • Fees/fines used to promote law

    • Focus on economic opportunity and family stability

• Principles

  • Detaining low/moderate risk defendants increases rates of criminal activity
  • Only detain high-risk individuals
  • Money bond not required to secure defendant appearance
  • Risk-based release decisions


Lessons Learned

• Understand your jail population

• Use existing governance structure

• Identify local champion(s) early

• Include all stakeholders in reform planning

• Develop processes for data collection/evaluation

• Support pretrial services with necessary services

• Familiarize stakeholders with EBP/Risk Principle

• Repeat message at every opportunity



Additional Resources
4 years ago
Creating a Culture of Pretrial Release
Creating a Culture of Pretrial Release in Arizona: Examining the Use of Bail Bonds and Pretrial Serv […]
4 years ago
Creating a Culture of Pre-Trial Release in Arizona: An Interview with Tom O’Connell and Kathy Waters
  Incarcerating people prior to trial is fraught with challenges. It can be a costly process […]