Pretrial Assessment Software A Game-Changer for California Courts

pretrial assessment software, game-changer, California courts

Pretrial Assessment Software A Game-Changer for California Courts


In a recent report presented at the Judicial Council’s business meeting in July, the positive impact of California’s pretrial pilot program was highlighted. The program, which aimed to increase the safe and efficient release of arrestees before trial, showed promising results in terms of improved outcomes for courts, defendants, and the public. With the implementation of pretrial assessment software, defendants were released pretrial more frequently, resulting in fewer rearrests and shorter jail stays. This article delves into the report’s details, discussing the key findings and the significance of pretrial assessment software in transforming the pretrial arena.

Key Findings of the Pretrial Pilot Program

The study conducted as part of the pretrial pilot program tracked over 422,000 defendants awaiting trial in 17 superior courts in California. The findings of the study revealed the following:

  1. Increased Release of Defendants: The pretrial programs led to a 5.7% increase in the release of individuals facing misdemeanors and an 8.8% increase for those arrested for felonies.
  2. Decreased Likelihood of Rearrest: Defendants awaiting trial for misdemeanors experienced a 5.8% decrease in rearrest rates, while those booked on felonies saw a 2.4% decrease.
  3. Reduced Time Spent in Jail: The implementation of pretrial programs significantly reduced the time defendants spent in jail awaiting release. For example, defendants in Sonoma County’s pretrial program spent an average of 14 hours in jail compared to 71 hours for defendants released through cash bail.

The Importance of Individualized Assessments

Justice Marsha Slough, who played a key role in presenting the pretrial report to the council, emphasized the significance of considering individual circumstances rather than relying solely on bail schedules. The first entrance into the criminal court system is a critical step, and judges are responsible for evaluating defendants on a case-by-case basis. Judges can make informed decisions using pretrial assessment software and tailor release conditions based on the defendant’s risk level and specific needs.

Collaboration and Data Collection

The pretrial study was a collaborative effort involving the courts, probation departments, sheriff departments, and the state Department of Justice. Each entity collected and provided data to create a comprehensive final report. This unprecedented collaboration ensured the accuracy and reliability of the findings, paving the way for evidence-based decision-making in pretrial release.

Goals of the Pretrial Release Pilot Program

With $75 million allocated from the fiscal year 2019-20 state budget, the Judicial Council launched and evaluated pretrial projects in 17 superior courts. The goals of the program were as follows:

  1. Increase the safe and efficient release of arrestees before trial.
  2. Use the least restrictive monitoring practices while ensuring public safety and court appearances.
  3. Validate and expand the use of risk assessment tools.
  4. Assess any bias in the pretrial process.

To achieve these goals, the pilot courts utilized pretrial assessment software, which provided valuable insights into the likelihood of a defendant failing to appear in court or committing new offenses during the pretrial period.

Support Services and Risk Assessment Tools

In addition to using risk assessment tools, the pilot courts offered various support services to defendants in the pretrial programs. These services included transportation vouchers, lodging assistance, and mental health services. By addressing the underlying factors that contribute to criminal behavior, such as lack of transportation or mental health issues, the pretrial programs aimed to promote successful reintegration into society.

Reminder Systems Improve Appearance Rates

One of the key findings of the pretrial study was the impact of reminder systems on appearance rates. When reminder systems were implemented, the study showed a 6.8% decrease in defendants who failed to appear for court-ordered appearances in misdemeanor cases. However, there was a 2.5% increase in failure-to-appear rates in felony cases.

To mitigate these challenges, courts implemented court date reminder systems, including manual and automated phone calls and text messages. The implementation of these reminder systems significantly improved court appearance rates, with Alameda County’s reminder system increasing appearance rates from 47% to 87%. As a result, most trial courts in California have now adopted reminder systems to ensure defendants stay informed about their court dates.

Evidence of Risk Assessment Tool Accuracy

The pretrial pilot program required the use of pretrial risk assessment tools to inform judicial officers’ decisions regarding pretrial release. These tools utilize data to assess the likelihood of a defendant failing to appear in court or committing new offenses during the pretrial period. A separate report on the accuracy of these risk assessment tools revealed that they were effective in estimating a defendant’s risk.

Mitigating Release Disparities in Misdemeanor Cases

The implementation of statewide pretrial programs had a significant impact on mitigating release disparities, particularly in misdemeanor cases. Before the program, Black and Hispanic defendants booked on misdemeanors were 1.2% less likely to be released pretrial compared to White defendants facing similar charges. However, after the program’s implementation, Black defendants were 3% more likely to be released, while Hispanic defendants showed no significant difference in pretrial release rates compared to White defendants.

The Future of Pretrial Assessment Software in California

The report presented to the Judicial Council highlighted the transformative potential of pretrial assessment software in the California justice system. By taking into account individual circumstances and using data-driven risk assessments, judges can make more informed decisions about pretrial release. The positive outcomes observed in the pretrial pilot program demonstrate the need for changes in the pretrial arena, ensuring fair and equitable treatment for all defendants.


The pretrial pilot program in California has shown promising results in improving outcomes for courts, defendants, and the public. Through pretrial assessment software and collaborative efforts among various entities, the program successfully increased pretrial releases, reduced rearrest rates, and decreased jail stays. The program’s findings underscore the importance of individualized assessments and evidence-based decision-making in the pretrial process. With ongoing funding and the implementation of pretrial release programs statewide, California is taking significant steps toward a fairer and more effective justice system. Pretrial assessment software is poised to play a crucial role in achieving these goals.