For anyone cynical about government programs taking a functioning system, making it worse, then as a solution to the problems it caused propose more of what made it worse, knowing how Virginia’s pretrial services agency functions will only validate that cynicism.
Pretrial Services has existed in Virginia for over 20 years. In 2016, a study was authorized by the Virginia State Crime Commission (VSCC) for a review of pretrial services. The Crime Commission requested pretrial services examine various aspects of the agency’s responsibilities and performance. The study was completed this past November of 2017 and presented to the Crime Commission in December, 2017. In short, pretrial services:
- could provide no evidence to show it has substantive value or benefit to our criminal justice system, and
- blamed much of it on the Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), as well as the lack of funding.
Their presentation was broken down into five sections: background, current
status, questions answered, summary of findings, and recommendations. This
article goes through the official presentation presented to Crime Commission last December by pretrial services, pointing out inconsistencies, evasions, and falsehoods, beginning with the “Current Status” section.
The current status section describes a brief history of the agency, it’s implementation throughout the state, funding, and what it is doing.
Locality-Based / Voluntary / Funding
The first item of note in the presentation is the clarification that pretrial services agencies are locality-based and voluntary, meaning counties and cities may choose to not participate. There is a caveat to this, which is the locality must set up a pretrial services agency if it receives a state reimbursement for a correctional facility. Rather than characterizing it as voluntary, “highly encouraged” would be a more accurate description.
Regarding the funding, the pretrial services agencies will receive between $10 and $12 million dollars for fiscal year 17-18.
Pretrial Supervision is not Probation?
The big red flag is on page 6 where it states, “Pretrial supervision is not probation. The defendant has not been convicted of a crime and is presumed innocent.”
While it may not be called probation, it is exactly the same. Often referred to as pretrial probation, pretrial supervision is regarded by many as the most controversial aspect of the agency. Defendants must report to the pretrial officer weekly or bi-weekly, may have to submit to drug or alcohol tests, and may have to attend classes (which they must pay for). GPS and SCRAM bracelets may be issued and can be very costly ($3 to $15 per day). Should defendants miss an appointment or fail any condition of pretrial condition, a warrant is issued and another charge is added to their record, just like probation.
It is not uncommon for the defendant’s original charge to be dismissed or ruled not-guilty, while the defendant is found guilty of violating pretrial conditions. So, the defendant’s remaining charges are completely contrived from pretrial services.
There is a perception that pretrial services was created to keep people in the system. Knowing how the system works and witnessing firsthand the detrimental effects for defendants, it is understandable how that attitude has become pervasive.
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