In 2008, the Campbell County Kentucky Police Chiefs were approached by our County Judge Executive. They asked for help in reducing our rising jail population and the costs associated with it. Through a series of meetings, we implemented a local policy whereby police officers making arrests for minor traffic and/or misdemeanor offenses would cite and release in lieu of lodging them in the county jail. Admittedly, the policy was not initially popular with an officer who subscribed to the old adage “if you do the crime you have to do the time” however, that quickly was overcome. Through the various databases accessed through their Mobile Data Computers (MDC’s), officers were able to quickly determine if an individual resided locally, had ever been in trouble before, or otherwise determine if they were a flight risk or not. As a result, we significantly reduced the cost to our county. We were not paying for people to sit in jail waiting for trial, allowing them to continue working, if employed, and reduced our costs. That alone was a major achievement because so many people lost their jobs due to being incarcerated for only a few days.
We started what eventually grew into a state initiative culminating in the passage of House Bill 463 (HB 463) during the 2011 Kentucky General Assembly. In the decade before the passage of HB 463, Kentucky had one of the fastest growing prison populations in the nation. Kentucky’s inmate population saw a 45 percent growth between 2000 and 2010, compared with 13 percent in the US prison system as a whole. This high growth rate was not because our crime rate grew; on the contrary, our serious crime rate was far below the national average. The trickledown effect from the state to our local county jails was causing local governments to expand facilities just to accommodate state prisoners.
HB 463 put in place a formal process thus eliminating the discretion our officers were attempting to employ locally. Pretrial Services now employs an objective risk assessment tool designed to gauge flight risk (FTA). The risk assessment tool was validated by researchers at the JFA Institute in 2010 who found “Kentucky’s instrument is producing a strong association between the risk levels and high FTA and pretrial arrest rates.” Of course, there are previsions made for officers to articulate special concerns as they relate to lodging an arrestee when they present a danger to themselves or others. In Campbell County we now release 51.1% of persons arrested and as a result have 15.4% of those FTA and only 6.0% who are re-arrested before trial. Our success speaks for itself.
For law enforcement, risk-based pretrial decision-making is just one of the tools to help us achieve our primary goal: public safety. This system also keeps our officers safer and allows arrestees to meet their court obligations while meeting their familial and community obligations. It is a model that is working in Kentucky and other jurisdictions and can be utilized by justice systems across the U.S.