A group of legislators and legislative staff members took part in the “Risk-based Pretrial Release Site Visit” Sept. 9-10, 2014, in Denver, Colo. The visit was planned and carried out through an NCSL partnership with the Public Welfare Foundation.
This site visit was designed to give lawmakers an opportunity to learn about risk-based pretrial release, as it has been recently implemented in Colorado. States have started allowing or mandating the use of a risk assessment as a tool to help courts make better informed decisions about pretrial release. While considerations of risk have always guided policy decisions and court discretion in pretrial decision-making, new scientific tools are making these determinations more empirical and reliable. These tools can help distinguish those who pose the greatest flight or safety risk from those who are good candidates for pretrial release. When used in combination with appropriate pretrial conditions and supervision, risk assessment can help manage jail populations and costs.
A 2013 Colorado law required risk assessments to determine conditions of pretrial release, and the use of best practices in pretrial supervision of defendants. A year later, Denver County has emerged as a national model for pretrial practices.
Former Colorado Representative Claire Levy, the primary sponsor of the 2013 legislation, opened the meeting with a candid overview of the legislative processes and the consortium of organizations involved in enacting the law. Participants also heard about the implementation of the reforms from Greg Mauro, Director of Denver Community Corrections; and Presiding Judge John Marcucci of Denver County provided a judicial perspective from the bench, which sees more than 180,000 felony cases each year.
The site visit allowed legislators to extensively observe the Denver County pretrial process, starting with a jail intake interview performed by Denver Pretrial Services staff. After the interview, participants learned how the interview questions were used to generate risk assessment scores under Colorado’s Pretrial Assessment Tool (CPAT) and the Ontario Domestic Assault Risk Assessment (ODARA).
Next, participants were present for the in-chambers judicial review of risk assessment scores and other relevant information, followed by the in-court bail advisement hearing in which bond and conditions were set. The final step was to observe the release process for a defendant. This included an interview with their pretrial supervision case manager, notice of future meetings, an overview of conditions and placement on electronic monitoring, if ordered by the court.
Data collection and assessment has been a large part of the implementation of Colorado’s 2013 legislation. Participants were able to review the most recent data showing that Denver was meeting, and generally exceeding, projected success rates for both public safety and appearance rates. County officials credit both improved assessment and supervision.
More Information on the Colorado Reforms