Washington state gets a grade of 'C' for its pretrial practices

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Washington state has received a so-so grade for its efforts to protect the rights of those people accused, but not yet convicted or acquitted, of crimes.

A new report from the Pretrial Justice Institute, an organization that advocates for nationwide pretrial reform, awards Washington a "C" due in part to its relatively low rate of detaining people before trial. Idaho, by comparison, received an "F." Only one state, New Jersey, earned an "A."

PJI's grading system considers states' pretrial detention rates, the prevalence of risk assessment tools used throughout each state, and whether or not a state has eliminated bail.

So far, New Jersey is the only state to have virtually eliminated bail after a new law took effect earlier this year (though Washington, D.C. has shunned the practice of keeping people in jail simply because they cannot afford to pay bail for more than two decades).

"Current pretrial justice is, in short, unfair, unsafe, a waste of public resources and a significant contributor to the nation's widely recognized problem of mass incarceration," the report reads.

The bail system, PJI and other bail reform advocates argue, unfairly discriminates against people too poor to pay for their freedom, while wealthier, but possibly more dangerous, people walk free.

PJI's report identifies Washington state as a "state to watch," citing the statewide Pretrial Reform Task Force made up of judges who will study the state's pretrial detention practices to come up with reforms.

The report also calls out Spokane for implementing an algorithmic risk assessment tool that assesses a person's likelihood to skip court or commit a new crime. The tool, as well as an expansion of Spokane's Office of Pretrial Services, indicates a shift to a system predicated more on risk, rather than wealth.

Cheryl Tofsrud, director of the Office of Pretrial Services, says the expansion in the past year is producing encouraging results. Her staff's recommendations to release people before trial have increased by about 10 percent. In 2016, 77 percent of the people monitored by her office did not commit a new crime, and 84 percent didn't pick up a new warrant before the case was resolved. Those figures are fairly consistent with the numbers for 2017, Tofsrud says.