The Davidson County Pre-Trial Release (PTR) program, administered by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO), began implementing new procedures this week after nearly two years of evaluation. Stakeholders, including General Sessions Court judges, the Davidson County District Attorney General’s Office, Public Defender’s Office, Metropolitan-Nashville Police Department, Criminal Court Clerk’s Office, and the DCSO, all participated in the study process. Ultimately, the reform broadens guidelines for PTR qualification, allowing more individuals to take part in the program.
A grant, totaling $350,000 over three years and awarded by the Tennessee Office of Criminal Justice Programs, supported technical assistance through the Crime and Justice Institute (CJI). CJI studied criminal histories of Davidson County arrestees over a three-year period, who showed up for court, and who is likely to be involved in further criminal activity while out on bond. Additionally, DCSO staff studied people who never made bond or PTR, their indigency status, and how it relates to the person’s inability to pay bond.
“There has never been any proof that someone’s ability to pay is a predictor they are more likely to show up for court,” Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall said. “There is research, however, that shows people who remain in jail are more likely to be found guilty and serve more time. That means, the system is putting a greater burden on financially disadvantaged individuals.”
CJI developed a scoring system tool based on two main factors: who is likely to return for a court date, and who is likely to be involved in criminal activity while awaiting that court appearance. Both commissioners and judges will use the tool as part of their decision-making process when determining who to grant PTR. Once placed on PTR, the arrestee will be assigned a DCSO case manager. Until the disposition of the defendant’s case, sheriff’s office employees will use a variety of methods, based on risk level, to monitor the participants including face-to-face visits, texts, phone calls, emails, and letters.
“Our community must turn its attention to criminal justice reform and this is one step in the right direction,” Hall said.
“When incarcerated for long periods of time, people lose their jobs, family relationships, self-worth, and the list goes on. None of those factors leads to success, only failure.”
Hall praised other criminal justice leaders for their participation and support. He also emphasized efforts as important as criminal justice reform must include cooperation from all areas of the system. These changes to PTR are a great example of working together for those who may not have a voice.
“Of course, public safety is the number one goal for all of us involved. What we are saying with this reform is an individual’s ability to pay should never be a determining factor in their ability to get out of jail,” Hall concluded.
The Davidson County PTR program has operated for approximately 30 years. It is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week operation with four case managers. Average length of PTR participation is one to six months and the current forfeiture rate is four percent.