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Tuolumne County Court Wins $632,000 For Pilot Pretrial Release Program

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Sonora, CA – The practices involving who to release and who to detain ahead of criminal trials will be scrutinized under a pilot program beginning June 30 in Tuolumne County.

On Friday, Tuolumne County Court Executive Officer Hector Gonzalez shared a new pretrial pilot program under a two-year grant to improve pretrial release practices is set to begin. The county, one of 17 chosen to participate, was awarded $632,000 by the Judicial council of California (JCC) to improve the local justice system.

Specifically, the program will address jail overcrowding; work to reduce failures to appear; prioritize community safety, ensuring incarceration is reserved for those who jeopardize public safety; and reduce discrimination based on wealth and race.

Gonzalez explains that the goals are to increase the safe, pretrial release of people from jail before their case is over, transparently assess their likelihood of returning to court and remaining arrest-free; monitor people while on pretrial release with research-based practices; and reduce bias based on wealth, race, ethnicity and gender.

Serious Local Jail Overcrowding Problem A Nexus

“Even before the issue of bail reform became a major political topic, Tuolumne County was faced with a jail-overcrowding problem so serious that immediate action was required,” states Superior Court Presiding Judge Donald Segerstrom.

“Working together with our justice partners, the Tuolumne County Superior Court instituted a local pretrial release program that focused on making sure public safety was the guiding factor. That local program allowed us to successfully apply for the Pretrial Pilot Program Grant…to continue this work.” The judge added that the program will enable the ability to ensure there is jail space for sentenced prisoners and limit pretrial detention to those who represent a public safety threat.

Chief Probation Officer Dan Hawks says he believes the local program, which was developed in partnership with justice system partners and experts in the field, can provide a model to other small counties looking to achieve great outcomes on a limited budget.

The program will use a public safety assessment (PSA) tool to assist judges in understanding the likely risk level of pretrial release and help inform the condition of release decisions to help people succeed while awaiting trial with conditions that to remain on release they do not commit any new crimes and appear at all their court proceedings.

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