UC Berkeley study finds pretrial program increased number of arrestees released before trial

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A recent UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy study on the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office pilot “Pre-Trial Release Unit,” or PRU — a program that connects arrestees to attorneys and an investigator after booking — found that it increased the number of people released from jail before trial.

The study, conducted by recently graduated public policy student Alena Yarmosky, found that during the first five months of the program, approximately 4,689 jail bed days were saved, which amounts to 940 jail bed days per month and 11,253 jail bed days per year. According to the study, arrestees who did not receive PRU services were released at arraignment only 14 percent of the time, while arrestees who received PRU services were released at arraignment 28 percent of the time.

“This is a really unique project; no other office in California or really anywhere that I am aware of — other than Miami — has a project like this,” said PRU staff attorney Chesa Boudin. “I think it is an important next step in expanding the services that we provide people who are arrested and deprived of their liberty.”

According to the study, 85 percent of the county jail population in San Francisco is in the pretrial phase, and an estimated 45 percent of the jail population is eligible for pretrial release. PRU services for arrestees include direct representation, early case investigation, attorney notification, parole advocacy, in-person arraignment recruitment and bail advocacy, among other services.

Both the study and Boudin discussed how the PRU is trying to address two critical issues facing the Bay Area and the United States as a whole: overcoming wealth disparities during the pre-arraignment period — the period between booking and first appearance in court — and reducing the number of incarcerated people.

Those who have the means to hire a private attorney have access to representation and legal advocacy that low-income arrestees do not have access to until arraignment, widening the wealth disparity gap, according to the study.

Defendants who are booked pretrial not only plead guilty at greater rates than their “similarly-situated releasees,” but they are also at a higher risk of being convicted and of being handed a longer sentence, the study said.

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office has requested $440,500 from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to sustain the PRU for the upcoming fiscal year, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. Boudin said funding is a huge restraint on how many arrestees the program reaches and how quickly it can get to them.

“We’re making a huge contribution both to our individual clients, to public defense more broadly, and what it means to have a right to counsel when you face prosecution for a crime. … It’s a critical role and safeguard for people who are arrested, often for no good reason,” Boudin said.

Assistant news editor Francesca Munsayac contributed to this report.

Contact Mani Sandhu at [email protected].