For the past four years, San Joaquin County has used its pre-trial Assessment and Monitoring program to evaluate which defendants should be released before trial and which should remain in custody as an alternative to bail.
Developed by Chief Probation Officer Stephanie James, the program uses a validation tool to predict how likely a defendant is to commit new crimes during the court process and how likely they are to show up in court.
James developed the program years before Senate Bill 10 was signed into law by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018 to eliminate cash bail as a requirement for release for defendants charged with certain misdemeanors.
According to a Wednesday press release from the Chief Probation Officers of California, James’ program was used as a model for a statewide pre-trial program should voters decide not to repeal SB 10 in the November 2020 election.
“It’s quite humbling,” James said on Thursday. “I really believe in the work that we’re doing, and that our outcomes are supporting what we’re trying to accomplish.”
James praised her team for putting in the time and effort to study pre-trial programs in use by other counties when developing her own program which she feels has been successful over the past four years.
Since it went live in October 2014, 97.4 percent of defendants in the program did not commit any new crimes during the court process and 95 percent showed up for all of their scheduled court dates, James previously told the News-Sentinel.
Representatives from 31 counties visited San Joaquin in September 2018 to learn from the program, James said, and she was thrilled to learn that the rest of the state will be able to learn from it as well.
“I really believe that we are the right agency to be tasked with this job because we are experts as assessing risks and monitoring our clients in the community.”
Karen Pank, CPOC’s executive director, called James a “very dynamic chief and a great leader, and praised her department for collaborating with other agencies and stakeholders when developing San Joaquin County’s pre-trial program.
“Certainly, you need to have a department take the lead, but you also need that lead to be able to work with others,” Pank said. “It’s something that probation (departments) in general do, and something that Chief James has done successfully over the years.”
The CPOC chose James’ program as a statewide model as it has already been running successfully for years, Pank said, and because the program constantly evaluates itself and makes changes based on data collected.
“Our organization really believes in data-driven decision-making, and there was a lot of information (James) had that could be shared,” Pank said.
In addition to developing a pre-trial program that is now being used as a model for the entire state, Pank also praised James for serving as president of the CPOC.
“I think that demonstrates some of her leadership qualities, and the respect that she commands among her peers.”
In a Thursday email to the News-Sentinel, San Joaquin County Assistant Sheriff Greg Williamson also spoke highly of James’ program for helping control the county jail’s population and encouraging collaboration between departments throughout the county.
“We are fortunate in San Joaquin County because our San Joaquin County Probation Chief has not only set up our county be prepared for SB 10 before it was introduced, but she has also created a system that is setting the example for pre-trial releases throughout the state,” Williamson said. “The pre-trial system is invaluable to the sheriff’s office and we would not be able to operate as effectively and efficiently without it.”