Pretrial Services Agencies: The First Responders in the Reentry Process

Article excerpt

For many years, the correctional system has assumed the responsibility of educating and rehabilitating offenders through interventions that seek to change the discouraging pattern of addiction, incarceration, and harm to self and society. "Reentry" typically refers to an offender returning to the community after an extended period of incarceration in prison. However, practitioners and researchers alike are beginning to realize that focusing solely On prisoner reentry neglects of offenders who leave the nation's jails each year. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 13 million individuals were processed through U.S. jails midyear 2007 through midyear 2008. (1) The various legal statuses of jail detainees, unpredictable lengths of stay and limited resources make jail reentry challenging. (2) However, the sheer number of offenders cycling through local jails provides a great opportunity for community supervision, diversion and treatment that may interrupt criminal behavior.

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Focusing on the transition from jail to the community after any length of confinement creates a platform to decrease the collateral consequences of the arrest and to impact future behaviors in the hopes of preventing rear-rest. From the moment an offender is arrested and charged with a crime, offender assessment begins to determine what level of incarceration and services are required. Accurate assessment and supervision serves to protect public safety, match offenders with appropriate services, and save jail beds for the most serious of criminal offenders. This type of reentry is conducted daily in many successful pretrial supervision agencies across the country.

A Pretrial Service Agency

The first pretrial services program was developed in New York City in the early 1960s. Since that time, hundreds of programs have been created the country that are designed to work with defendants who are pending trial and therefore presumed innocent. The implementation of pretrial agencies has not been standardized, which makes it difficult to generalize service and program successes. Some programs are housed within the courts, as part of corrections or even within probation departments Other jurisdictions utilize nonprofit organizations to provide pretrial services. (3) The size of these programs and the services they provide vary across jurisdictions. However, the primary purposes of pretrial programs are to assist the courts with release decisions and to supervise defendants who are awaiting trial within the community to ensure appearance at court and protect public safety. Pretrial agencies provide verifiable information to all players within the courtroom workgroup so that the best outcome may occur for both the offender and the public

For many correctional departments such as in Montgomery County, Md., pretrial service agencies are applying the first steps of reentry in hopes of preventing future recidivism, while maximizing limited jail resources for those who pose the biggest risk to public safety. These pretrial agencies conduct risk assessments of new arrestees, make supervision recommendations to the courts, deter-mine eligibility for diversion, and supervise and monitor offender compliance within the community. This initial contact provides a unique opportunity to start the reentry process, no matter how small the effort, with every person in U.S. jails. This approach forces offenders to immediately examine the behaviors that resulted in their arrest it and assists with diminishing the negative impact of arrest for those individuals found not guilty. Focusing on reentry services immediately after arrest allows a pretrial service agency to become an important component in the reentry continuum.

Pretrial Assessment

Entering the criminal justice system is a stressor that has the potential for negative outcomes, including removal from family, loss of employment and even suicide. …