Thurston 1 of 5 counties nationwide chosen for pretrial justice initiative

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Thurston County is one of five jurisdictions across the country that will take part in an initiative aimed at improving pretrial justice systems and reducing jail populations, the county announced this week.

The initiative, Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research (APPR), will play out over the next five years.

“As an APPR Research-Action Site, Thurston County will receive intensive assistance from justice experts to study the county’s pretrial system, understand data, and design and implement research-based strategies that are responsive to local needs,” a press release from the county reads.

The project is led by the Center for Effective Public Policy, RTI International, and the Stanford Computational Policy Lab, according to a spokesperson for the center; it’s supported by Arnold Ventures, a Texas-based philanthropy.

In an Arnold Ventures press release, it states APPR is “aimed at reducing wealth- and race-based discrimination and ensuring pretrial incarceration is used only when absolutely necessary to protect public safety.”

The release says researchers will look at sites’ current pretrial systems and help stakeholders understand the data, then design and implement reforms.

“Thurston County is ready for this,” Marianne Clear, Pretrial Services Director for the county, wrote in an email to The Olympian.

The sites, the Arnold Ventures press release reads, will consider implementing the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) — a tool Arnold Ventures developed. The Public Safety Assessment (PSA) is meant to predict how likely a person is to be successful if they’re released to the community while they await trial.

According to the PSA website, the tool uses factors such as age and pending charges to generate two scores, ranging from 1 to 6: A score for risk of new criminal activity, and another for risk of failure to appear in court. A judge can then consider those scores when making the decision whether a person should be released or detained ahead of trial.

Dozens of jurisdictions have adopted the PSA, including Yakima County, according to the PSA website.

Clear wrote in an email to The Olympian that Thurston County currently uses a different risk assessment tool and wants to switch to the PSA, partly because it focuses on the pretrial population.

Providing the information to the Court and counsel will help ensure that resources like the jail are being utilized for individuals who pose a high risk to public safety,” Clear wrote. “Each day incarcerated while pre-trial has an additional impact on an individual – especially the first three days. Studies show that individuals are at higher risk for losing their employment, housing and bonds with family if they remain in custody. ...”

Sites such as Thurston that applied to take part in APPR expressed interest in implementing the PSA, according to a spokesperson with the Center for Effective Public Policy.

“Each site will decide whether or not to implement the PSA only after a robust process of study and evaluation,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

Twelve jurisdictions applied for APPR in 2018, according to a spokesperson for the Center for Effective Public Policy. Pierce County is another one of the five sites chosen; the other sites are in Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina.

“As with all five jurisdictions selected to date, Thurston County’s application exhibited strong commitment to tackling complex pretrial research and policy issues as a team and the capacity to share critical data for APPR research partners to accomplish rigorous local validation and evaluation work,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Olympian.

Sara Gentzler joined The Olympian in June 2019. She primarily covers Thurston County government and its courts, as well as breaking news. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Creighton University.