Pretrial Software Understanding Its Role in the Pretrial Process

pretrial assessment software

Pretrial Software Understanding Its Role in the Pretrial Process

Pretrial risk assessment tools play a significant role in the pretrial process, although their integration and usage vary across jurisdictions. Many individuals who undergo the pretrial process are unaware of how risk assessment tools influence the decisions made by judges or magistrates regarding their pretrial liberty, supervision, or incarceration.

To provide a better understanding of the pretrial process and the use of risk assessment tools, we have developed a simulator based on the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) as integrated into New Jersey’s criminal legal pretrial proceedings. This simulator allows users to walk through each aspect of the pretrial process, make choices that generate a PSA score and pretrial outcome, and observe how different factors and charges can influence the tool’s recommendation.

Understanding the Pretrial Process

The pretrial process can be complex and involve various stages and decision-makers. By going through the simulator, users can gain insights into how risk assessment tools are used at different points in the process. Here is a breakdown of the simulator’s steps:

  1. Choose an offense: Users start by selecting the offense they are being arrested for. The simulator offers a range of offenses, from minor violations like disorderly conduct to more serious crimes like murder or sexual assault.
  2. Issuance of complaint-summons or complaint-warrant: Based on the offense chosen, the simulator determines whether the police issue a complaint-summons or a complaint-warrant upon arrest. A complaint-summons requires individuals to appear in court, while a complaint-warrant leads to immediate custody and transfer to the county jail.
  3. Release or detention: Depending on the type of complaint issued, users either get released immediately or are taken into custody and transferred to the county jail.
  4. Pretrial Services runs the PSA: If released, pretrial services run the PSA and make initial release or detention recommendations based on the PSA score.
  5. Factors influencing the PSA score: The simulator presents various factors that can influence the PSA score. These factors include age at the time of arrest, current charges, pending charges, prior convictions, prior instances of failure to appear (FTA) pretrial, and prior sentences to incarceration.
  6. Calculation of raw scores: Users input their relevant information for each factor, and the simulator calculates the raw scores for failure to appear, new criminal activity, and new violent criminal activity.
  7. Conversion of raw scores: The raw scores are converted into converted FTA score, converted NCA score, and determine whether a new violent criminal activity (NVCA) flag is present.
  8. Charge decision: Based on the scores and flags, the simulator determines whether the police issue a complaint-warrant or a complaint-summons.
  9. Pretrial recommendation: Pretrial services combine the charge and scores to give a pretrial recommendation. The recommendation may involve different levels of supervision, such as phone calls, face-to-face meetings, or electronic monitoring.
  10. Review by prosecutor and defense: The prosecutor and defense review the PSA results and the case.
  11. Initial hearing before a judge: Within 48 hours, the defendant appears before a judge for the initial hearing.
  12. Arguments for or against PSA results: The prosecutor and defense may present arguments to the judge about the accuracy of the PSA results and how they represent the defendant’s risk level.
  13. Judge’s decision: The judge decides whether to release or detain the defendant pretrial and determines the conditions and supervision of release.
  14. Justification for detention or electronic monitoring: If detention or electronic monitoring is recommended, the prosecution or judge must provide full justification for their decision. New Jersey operates under the presumption of release in most cases.
  15. Post-release requirements: If released, defendants must meet the pretrial supervision requirements and appear for all court hearings to avoid being sent back to jail before trial.

Understanding the Role of Risk Assessment Tools

The simulator offers a glimpse into how risk assessment tools, such as the PSA, are used in the pretrial process. It highlights the factors considered and their influence on the PSA score and subsequent recommendations. However, it is essential to recognize that risk assessment tools are not the sole determinant of the outcome.

The PSA score generated by the simulator serves as a starting point for pretrial services, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges to evaluate the defendant’s risk level. It is important to note that the PSA score does not take into account personal circumstances or out-of-state warrants, which may be relevant to the defendant’s risk level.

In New Jersey, the PSA scores are applied to a decision-making framework that guides judges and magistrates in determining appropriate levels of release, supervision, or incarceration. Other jurisdictions may use decision frameworks and release matrices instead, which provide recommendations for supervision levels without detention. However, judges and magistrates may deviate from these recommendations and still choose to detain defendants or impose money bail.


The pretrial software assessment simulator allows individuals to experience the integration of risk assessment tools into the pretrial process and observe how different factors and charges can influence the recommendations made by these tools. It is crucial to understand that risk assessment tools are not infallible and should be considered alongside other factors. By gaining a better understanding of the pretrial process and the role of risk assessment tools, communities can engage in decarceration organizing and campaigns to address the biases inherent in these tools.

To learn more about decision-making frameworks and how judges and magistrates utilize them, you can refer to the “Outputs: Risk Score” page. Additionally, Community Justice Exchange’s organizing guide, “Confronting Pretrial Risk Assessment Tools in Decarceration Campaigns,” provides insights into negotiated decision-making frameworks and release matrices (Section 2, page 25, and Appendix #3). Overall, understanding the complexities of risk assessment tools can help promote a fairer and more just pretrial system.

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