Pretrial Services: Virginia’s Boondoggle

Summary of Findings

Pretrial Services BreathalizerThis section can be characterized as the “explain-yourself” section. The very first statement in the “Summary of Findings” section reads, “Overall, broad support exists amongst many stakeholders for the use of pretrial services”. After reading their explanations for their performance, or lack there-of, the question of why would stakeholders support pretrial services comes to mind. It becomes clear that Pretrial Services lacks substance.

Rather than analyze their statements, I will just quote them in their full context since they speak for themselves.

  • Pretrial has been in existence for over 20 years in Virginia, yet confusion remains about what pretrial services are and what role they serve in the criminal justice system.
  • The overall performance of pretrial services across the Commonwealth is difficult to assess.
  • Staff cannot fully assess the effectiveness and impact of these significant statewide changes.
  • DCJS does not use a funding formula to determine disbursement amounts of grant funds to pretrial services agencies.
  • Multiple pretrial services agencies have expressed frustration that funding is not allocated based upon needs.
  • Local agencies consistently noted that staffing issues greatly impact their ability to conduct investigations and manage caseloads.
  • The PTCC case management system is antiquated.
  • During staff analysis of statewide pretrial data, several concerns were identified:
  • Numerous fields in PTCC are not completed.
  • Definitions are not consistently applied by agencies.
  • Regular compliance monitoring does not exist to readily identify and correct data entry errors or omissions, which impacts the integrity of the data.

Pretrial services ankle bracelet
In short, the message is that most people don’t know what we do and we can’t explain it or measure it. If we’re not doing a good job then it’s either a funding problem or DCJS’s fault.


Finally, the recommendations section lists what pretrial services believe should happen to improve pretrial services. It can be summarized in one statement: DCJS could and should do a lot more of everything.

Every presentation box leads with “VA code should be amended to require DCJS to ….”, or, “DCJS should be required to…”.

Virginia’s Pretrial Services is a textbook example of a stereotypical government agency which struggles to validate itself while wasting millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money and creating problems where none previously existed.

Recall the stated goal of pretrial services was to ensure the indigent get an opportunity to be released while awaiting trial. Clearly, pretrial services has never done that. Instead, by effectively putting defendants on probation prior to trial, it became the lead culprit in the destruction of the “innocent until proven guilty” principal of our criminal justice system.

Pretrial services degrades Virginia’s criminal justice system, entrapping countless defendants with more debt and non-criminal charges. The poor are the hardest hit by these policies and procedures.

Pretrial Services lacks substance. Pretrial services should be defunded, or at a minimum relegated to its’ original purpose.

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