The County’s Criminal Justice Services to Launch New Public Safety Assessment Tool

single news

*Updated 3/27/24

After two years of study, training, meetings and workshops, the Prince William County Criminal Justice Services team is ready to introduce its Public Safety Assessment (PSA) tool. The PSA is designed to determine whether people charged with crimes can be released back into the community pending trial. Prince William County is only one of five communities in Virginia which will be piloting the tool.

The PSA uses nine scoring factors to help judges and judicial officers make appropriate release conditions to ensure court appearance and public safety during the pretrial period.  These factors include age, prior felony convictions, prior misdemeanor convictions, current violent offenses and prior failure to appear in court. Background information and interviews that answer the questions posed by these nine factors allow for complete risk assessments, which help judges make their decision.

The PSA scoring is entirely automated, leaving no room for human error. However, the courts can take employment, a history of substance abuse, and mental health needs into account along with the assessment. Prosecutors and defense attorneys also have input on whether people should be released before trial. If judges release someone back into the community, the PSA guides the stakeholders in determining the services needed to stay out of jail.

Prince William County Criminal Justice Services Director Steve Austin states that the PSA's predictive success rates range from 85 to 89 percent among roughly 285 jurisdictions that currently use the instrument. "People who are released pending trial have lower recidivism rates overall, and likely, a better outcome at the trial," Austin said. "Releasing people who can safely be released into the community is always a win for everyone."

People released pending their trial have a better chance of keeping their jobs, maintaining family support, and keeping their housing, which also helps them make trial dates. It also can save money, as the cost to supervise someone in pretrial release is much less than the cost to keep someone in the Adult Detention Center.

To prepare for the PSA's launch, stakeholders from the criminal justice system, treatment providers, social services, community members, commonwealth attorneys, police, bar associations, public defenders, prosecutors and judges were involved in planning and preparing the tool's implementation.

“It took us two years because we took a thoughtful look at our pretrial justice system. We invited stakeholders to various meetings. We looked at data, and based on those conversations, we decided those areas that we wanted to work on to improve the system,” Austin said.

The PSA program is being piloted in Prince William County, along with Richmond, Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta. The program collects data and sends it to the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, which will use the data to decide whether to implement the program across the state.

“We were chosen with the other jurisdictions in the state as pilot sites because of our work and our reputation as being leaders in the state,” Austin said. “What we’re doing is exciting and innovative. It’s creative, and it’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s hard work where we have gotten to collaborate, we’ve gotten to hear how other sides of the system see things.”

Prince William County Executive Chris Shorter praised the program and recognized staff and the work that went into getting the program ready to launch.

“The new PSA will go a long way toward keeping people with their families so they can get needed support from the community and the programs that are designed to help,” Shorter said. “I want to commend the staff and all of those who worked so hard to design and implement the PSA, which will benefit the community in so many ways. It’s a great example of how the county is implementing innovative, human-centered approaches to serving the community.”

All News