Study: SF Public Defender’s Pilot Program Curtails Pretrial Incarceration, Saves Costs


(From Press Release) – An innovative pilot program through the San Francisco Public Defender’s office has saved nearly a million dollars of taxpayer money and thousands of jail beds during its first five months of operation, according to a study released Thursday by the California Policy Lab at University of California Berkeley.

The Pretrial Release Unit (PRU), staffed by two public defenders and a single investigator, broke new ground in October by allowing people who cannot afford private counsel to access legal representation shortly after being booked into jail. Ordinarily, these 80-90 percent of arrestees must wait two to five days until a lawyer is appointed by the court. During those critical days, prosecutors decide whether to pursue criminal charges. Bail amounts are also set.

In the study, The Impact of Early Representation: An Analysis of the Public Defender’s Pretrial Release Unit, researcher Alena Yarmosky found people represented by the PRU spend less time in jail and are twice as likely to have their cases dismissed at arraignment. Those with parole holds who receive PRU advocacy spend 9.5 fewer days in county jail, the study found.

“By comparing recipients of Pretrial Release Unit services to similarly situated arrestees, we found that the PRU doubled the likelihood of release at arraignment, and that the PRU-provided parole advocacy substantially reduced the time that arrestees were incarcerated pretrial,” said Evan White, executive director of the California Policy Lab at UC Berkeley.

The San Francisco Public Defender’s Office launched its “Pre-Trial Release Unit” (PRU) on October 2, 2017. The PRU, which is staffed by two full-time attorneys and one full-time investigator, provides legal advice and advocacy to indigent arrestees during the critical period between booking and arraignment.

PRU interventions include direct representation (through one-on-one interviews), early case investigation, attorney notification, parole advocacy, contacts to family and friends, in-person arraignment recruitment, in-jail referrals, and bail advocacy. In its first five months of operation, the PRU provided pre-arraignment representation in 1,024 unique cases.

The report also quantified the cost-savings of the program. The PRU saved 4,689 jail beds during its initial five months of operation. This translates to $806,508 saved due to the program so far. The PRU, which is seeking continued funding from San Francisco supervisors, would cost only $440,501 in FY ’18-’19 and only $462,567 in FY ’19-’20.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi noted that the PRU also has a direct and positive impact on people’s lives.

“Because representation starts right away, our investigator and attorneys talk to witnesses and discover exonerating evidence earlier. That means innocent people don’t have to languish in jail,” Adachi said. “More people are able to keep their jobs, maintain stable housing and protect their families from separation.”

The full report can be found here.

Among the findings from the researcher is the conclusion that the Public Defender’s Pre-Trial Release Unit has demonstrated promising initial success in meeting its goals of 1) reducing wealth disparities in access to pre-arraignment representation, and 2) reducing the jail population  through increased access to pre-trial release.

Specifically, their analysis reveals that PRU intervention reduces the length of pre-trial incarceration:

Individuals who receive arrest-responsive intervention are twice as likely to be released at arraignment when compared with similarly situated, non-treated arrestees. Similar, not-treated arrestees are released at arraignment 14 percent of the time, compared to a 28 percent rate for treated arrestees. This appears to be due primarily to attorneys’ increased ability to argue for release at arraignment, including increased access to client information, early investigation, and in-person presence at arraignment.

– Among all eligible parolees, parole advocacy provided by the PRU reduced the length of incarceration by 230 hours (approx. 9.5 days). This is consistent with qualitative evidence that suggests parole advocacy increases the speed at which parole holds are lifted and reduces the number of parole petitions filed.

The research also found that PRU intervention is reducing wealth disparities in access to critical pre-arraignment benefits.

The analysis suggests:

PRU intervention may uncover evidence that may positively impact later case outcomes. This evidence, including surveillance footage and/or witness testimony, may be impossible to access post-arraignment.

– By simultaneously advocating for arrestees and helping them navigate the legal process, PRU intervention likely increases procedural justice.

– By contacting the employers, family members, and friends of arrestees, the PRU may help clients’ keep their jobs, maintain stable housing, and protect their families while incarcerated. This increased stability during incarceration may lead to increased stability in the longer-term.

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13 thoughts on “Study: SF Public Defender’s Pilot Program Curtails Pretrial Incarceration, Saves Costs”

    1. Howard P

      Fascinating story… and the defense attorney for the reported gunman — Jeff Adachi… who declined comment… hmmmmmmmmmmm

      Will definitely keep that in mind when considering further articles submitted here by Mr Adachi…

    2. Keith O

      Yes Jim, thanks for the link.  These are the kind of stories you’ll never see on the Vanguard because they don’t fit the agenda.  So these types of programs that release criminals directly led to the death of Edward French.  When will the V write that article?

    3. Keith O

      Read the comment section to the story that Jim posted.  Very interesting.  If you go by the comments people aren’t very accepting of this new program.

      You coddle criminals and this is what you get.

      Are these the types of programs that Johannson will be advocating for if elected?

      1. Jeff M

        If you analyze the modern leftist orthodoxy that has derived from what was once simply a collection of more liberal views about society you will note the holders of that orthodoxy (aka “the Mob”) have a Marxist opinion of personal property… basically that it should not be allowed because it results in capitalist exploitation of the proletariat.   This then leads them to not care too much for the crimes of theft, larceny, burglary, etc… because more often than not the people that have property worth stealing are people of means.

        The conflict they are running into is that liberals as a group now control the wealth and own most the property.   The liberals of means are sort of stuck in a place where they both need to support the orthodoxy for fear of being attacked and ostracized by the Mob, but also find themselves in opposition to their stuff being ripped off and the homeless using their front porch for a toilet.

        It is kinda’ fun to watch their internal conflict boil up on the pages of the S.F. Chronicle.

    1. Ken A

      Thanks to Jeff’s “let’s just let criminals roam around stealing approach” there are now about 100 car break ins a DAY in San Francisco.  This is great news for UBER and Lyft since most people I know that live in SF will now only park their cars in their garages since the chance of a break in is so high (and the SF Police and DA don’t care at all so making a police report is a big waste of time).

  1. Tia Will

    Oh for heaven’s sake. The argument and example made by Jim have merit. Every program will have its advantages and disadvantages. Take the “lock them up and throw away the key” approach will lead to imprisonment of innocents such as the Central Park 5. Taking too “lenient” an approach may lead to release of individual’s who may commit further crimes. Obviously both of these approaches should be examined with care.

    I would love to see the comparative points of view of both candidates on this issue.

    And then, Jeff jumps in with a bunch of pseudo philosophic baloney that confuses any prioritization of crime with a “Marxist” view of personal property. Jeff, the fact that I am more concerned about getting a methamphetamine dealer off the street than I am getting a petty thief off the street for a $3.99 bag of cheese does not a Marxist make.

    What do I think the best solution for a petty thief would be? Community service and restoration of the price of the bag of cheese to the store from which it was stolen. Not > $ 600,000 from taxpayers for a lack of impulse control.

  2. Tia Will


    Correct as written. Occasionally I become exasperated enough to fall back on an expression from my mother. I also occasionally use “all the further you have to go” and “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar”.

    You will have to excuse me. These colloquialisms are precious memories from my mom and occasionally they slip out.

    1. Howard P

      Those memories of your Mom are indeed precious… never forget… the honey/vinegar thing reminded me of Grandmother… let’s leave it at “have a wonderful day and weekend”…

      I’m headed off in an hour or so, to say goodbye to Mary Ellen Dolcini, an exemplary person…

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