Early Intervention by Public Defenders Offers Improved Outcomes for Clients, California Policy Lab Study Found

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Santa Clara, CA – Last week the California Policy Lab in Berkeley released their report on the impact of early pre-trial programs by public defender’s offices.  They partnered with the Santa Clara Public Defender’s Office on the PARR (Pre-Arraignment Representation and Review) program to see the impact of pre-trial intervention early in the process and found that—across the board—the program had a huge impact on the outcomes for their clients.

The California Policy Lab on Tuesday had several of the participants in the PARR Program and study explain the findings of the Pilot Project.

Lee Hendrickson, Deputy Public Defender at the County Santa Clara Public Defender’s Office, was part of the team that worked on the early representation team, which evolved into the PARR program.

He explained that the PARR program came up organically in response to the California Supreme Court decision In Re: Humphrey, which, as he explained, “really changed the landscape for people in pretrial detention.”

Previously, bail was set “set reflexively by the courts by according to a bail schedule.”

Humphrey, he explained, said “each individual appearing in arraignment had the right to have an individualized determination after their ability to pay bail, and also whether or not any less restrictive alternatives existed to incarceration.”

Hendrickson said, “And when we read that opinion, we realized that that really was changing the landscape for people in pretrial detention and in trial.”

They reached out to Civil Rights Corps which was litigating Humphrey and also the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, which has had a successful Pretrial Release Unit (PRU).

Hendrickson said, “We changed our model and decided that we really needed to start doing bail motions for those folks.”

However, he explained, “What really came out of that was an understanding that we really couldn’t do that work without first engaging them really seriously, as in individuals and human beings, that they are and understood their life circumstance, connectivity to community, whether or not they had dependent adults in the home, children, all those things, and whether they had stable employment.”

He noted, “This program kind of arose out of that, and it really does address the harmful effects that occur when people are incarcerated. Even for short periods of time, studies have shown that people who are incarcerated for as little as 48 to 72 hours can lose stable employment, housing, and custody issues, a whole variety of downstream effects, which really destabilizes our community.”

Carlie Ware Horne is the Clinical Supervising Attorney at the Criminal Defense Clinic at Stanford Law School.

She explained, “What we did with that team is we really tried to intervene and kind of just shine light into what I see as really like a black hole, which is the jail processing function that happens right after arrest. And what we did with that light is we just tried to kind of infuse that space with defense advocacy.”

As she noted, “The tasks that we did during that period of time after arrest and before arraignment, are really the same things that we already do when we’re representing a client.”

What changed is, “We just did them earlier.”

When they intervened was during that 48-hour period between the arrest and when the first appearance in court happens.

In one example she gave, a guy was a barber but got into a dispute with his roommates. He was accused of assault with a deadly weapon. The deadly weapon was a towel rod.

Horne explained, “There were no serious injuries. He was booked at a felony, he couldn’t afford the bail. I was able to connect with his employer. And at arraignment, I appeared with him after speaking with him in jail. During that time, he was arrested and he was released at arraignment, we were able to resolve the case for a misdemeanor.”

The study was done by Dr. Johanna Lacoe, Reseearch Director California Policy Lab.

She explained “that they wanted to set it up in the way that would facilitate a research study that would allow us to learn what the impacts of the pilot program were. And so we set up a research partnership over the next couple of years that allowed us to figure out what the research design would look like and to carry out the study.”

The primary research question, she said, “is what is the impact of early representation of services offered through PARR on release, at arraignment charge filing, and case outcomes for felony defendants?”

PARR didn’t have the capacity to serve everyone in Santa Clara County who was going to be eligible for services.

As a result, PARR provided services one day a week—and rotated that day week by week.

She said, “This means that the, the PARR days and the kind of offer of PARR services is essentially random. So people who just happened to be booked on a day when PARR was being offered were eligible to receive PARR services. And people who just happened to be booked on a day when PARR wasn’t being offered, just got public defense services as usual.”

This allowed for a comparison between PARR and not-PARR interventions.

Lacoe explained that “this really allows us to compare people who received PARR services after being booked on a PARR day to people who would very likely have received PARR services had they been booked on a PARR day, had they just been booked on a different day of the week.”

Among the key findings, “First we find that PARR participants spent less time in jail.”

Lacoe explained, “We find that the average person who received PARR services as a result of being booked on a PARR day, spent six total days in jail. Whereas comparable people who were booked on non-PARR days spent 29 days in jail. So this represents a 79% reduction in jail time for PARR participants.”

She said, “We find that receiving PARR services reduce the probability that an individual is convicted in the, in the case that they were booked on by 27 percentage points, or about 75% relative to comparable people who were booked on non-PARR days.”

In addition, “we find that PARR participants were 36 percentage points more likely to see their cases dismissed by the prosecution than non-PARR participants.”

Lacoe said there were two potential mechanisms that we identified that might be driving these results.

First, she offered that “faster pretrial release could lessen the need for an individual to take a plea bargain to secure their release. So that could be driving some of these results.”

And further, she said, “PARR attorneys may just be better equipped to mount a strong defense with more preparation.”

She suggested, “If you start the investigation early, there may be evidence that you can gather that bolster the case that could lead to the case being dropped or lower the likelihood of conviction.”

In conclusion, the PARR pilot “resulted in improved release, and case outcomes for participants really suggests that offering public defense services as early as possible really can make a difference for low-income clients.”

Lacoe said, “We think this model could be adopted widely by other public defender offices in California and beyond our state. But it really takes a willingness to rethink how you, you engage with clients and how you structure the caseloads for those attorneys.”

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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