Criminal Justice Reform: A Look at Pretrial Services

Criminal Justice Reform: A Look at Pretrial Services

Articles, Blog , , , , , , , , 0 Comments


New Jersey’s new criminal justice system fundamentally changes how defendants and their cases are processed in the courts. Risk assessments not cash bail are now the key factor in determining whether defendants are released or detained before trial. At the heart of this system is a newly created pretrial services unit, with employees working in all 15 court vicinages in New Jersey. They prepare recommendations to the court based on the results of a risk assessment, called the Public Safety Assessment, or PSA. Passaic Superior Court Assignment Judge Ernest Caposela likens the PSA to a cat-scan that allows for early diagnosis at a critical period. Caposela “We have systems in place now to get more information early on from law enforcement. And we have this PSA now that helps us tremendously.” This information is pulled together in 20 minutes or less from integrated computer systems. It includes defendant’s age, current offense whether it is considered violent, any pending charges, prior convictions, prior incarcerations and previous failures to appear in court. Passaic County Pretrial Services Manager John Harrison says his staff reviews the PSA and checks court and law enforcement records for additional complaints to quickly send a complete package of information to all parties involved in the case. Harrison “Communication is vital in this day and age. We need to make sure that the prosecutors, the defense attorneys and the courts have all of the information.” Once that information is collected and distributed to the parties, the defendant has a first appearance hearing within 24 to 48 hours of incarceration. At the hearing, the prosecutor can file a motion to ask the defendant be detained until trial. If the prosecutor does not file a detention motion, the judge releases the defendant with or without conditions. Judge Caposela stressed judges rely on the PSA, but they retain discretion. Caposela “It gives us some information. It doesn’t tell us what to do. It still requires us to take that score and put it in a factual setting and look at other factors just like a doctor would if they got a cat scan or mri and then make a decision based on that.” Judges have several options, ranging from release with or without conditions to home supervision and electronic monitoring. A judge can also impose conditions such as as curfews, restriction on travel or prohibition of contact with victims or witnesses. Caposela “One of the goals of Criminal Justice Reform was that we would be able to release defendants and permit them, one, to get drug treatment if they needed it, permit them to continue with their education, their jobs, their lives.” Before a defendant is released, he or she first meets with pretrial services staff to review the terms of their release. Harrison “Our officers will review the case prior to meeting with the defendant to make sure that they don’t presently have any bench warrants active, that they are going to their court dates, that they do not have any new offenses.” Pretrial services continues to monitor defendants for the remainder of their case. Depending on the terms of their release, defendants are required to make phone or in-person contact with pretrial services. Pretrial services also makes sure defendants are abiding by the conditions of their release, reminds defendants of court appearances and serves as a resource for defendants when needed. Harrison “Most defendants want to succeed on pretrial monitoring. They do not want to go back into the county jail. For the most part, the defendants come in when their supposed to, contact us. We have some defendants that keep on calling. They just want to apprise us of every situation.” Judge Caposela says the bottom line is that under Criminal Justice Reform, pretrial services allows defendants, who are considered innocent until proven guilty, to remain connected with the court. That alone, he said, gives defendants a greater chance of success as they await their day in court. Caposela “The big misconception is, it’s not get out of jail free in that we’re keeping the most dangerous prisoners in prison, that we’re disposing of cases faster you know justice delayed is justice denied, that’s true. And that we’re monitoring these defendants.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *