Is a pretrial services program the magic fiscal bullet?

In FY2013, Culpeper paid the second highest amount for outside jail services among Virginia localities that operated a jail and/or were a member in a regional jail.

Recently, our Board of Supervisors was forced to amend the FY2015 budget to increase funding for outside jail services from $350,000 to $900,000. In response, the Board is now considering the implementation of a pretrial services program in hopes of reducing the high number of people sitting in jail awaiting trial. As a prosecutor I work in a jurisdiction with a pretrial services program, and I know that a well-managed program can be a valuable resource. As a matter of fundamental fairness, I have in the past, and I do now support the implementation of such a program in Culpeper. While the program has been discussed in Culpeper for years, ironically, without a prosecution backlog, the urgency was never there for any serious discussions. From a cost perspective, however, it may not be the magic bullet the Board of Supervisors hopes will slay the soaring costs of pretrial incarcerations.

First, it remains to be seen whether spending money to save money will work. Will adding a pretrial services program produce enough savings to cover the cost to implement the program itself, such as the additional personnel and facility costs as well as the monitoring and testing costs?

Second, will that alone cause costs to drop as remarkably as they have risen? The numbers historically suggest it will not. Prior to 2013, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office handled substantially the same caseload as today without pretrial services. Yet taxpayers paid hundreds of thousands of dollars less for outside jail services than they do today. The difference between now and then isn’t as much about the number of people detained prior to trial, as it is about how the current Commonwealth’s Attorney is handling criminal cases.

The stress that this has placed on the judicial system is self-evident. While pretrial services may alleviate some of that stress, from a cost perspective, that alone will never be the solution.

Paul R. Walther
Candidate for Commonwealthâ??s Attorney