Pretrial risk assessment proposed

The state court administrator would develop a pilot program for pretrial risk assessment and services in two Nebraska counties under a bill heard by the Judiciary Committee Feb. 3.

Sen. John Cavanaugh
Sen. John Cavanaugh

Under LB1155, introduced by Omaha Sen. John Cavanaugh, the three-year pilot program would require use of an evidence-informed, validated risk assessment tool to inform bond decisions and conditions of release to avoid pretrial incarceration. In cases of intimate partner abuse, the bill would require mandatory use of a tool specifically designed to assess the risk posed by a defendant to their partner.

The pilot program would be deployed in one county with a population of 100,000 or more and one county with a population of fewer than 100,000 inhabitants. The bill states the Legislature’s intent to appropriate $500,000 per year in general funds to the program for three years.

Cavanaugh said the program would give judges and prosecutors more information when setting bonds and determining the need for custody supervision.

“Increasing access to pretrial services is an important way to reduce the number of people detained in our county jails,” he said. “LB1155 will provide an important resource for counties for pretrial services and help our criminal justice system in a meaningful way.”

Jasmine Harris, director of public policy and advocacy at RISE, an organization that provides reentry services for individuals leaving the criminal justice system, also spoke in support of the bill. She said LB1155 would increase funding and assistance to people on the front-end of that system.

“If individuals have access to pretrial programs and services, it helps them get a start on addressing some of those issues in their life that aren’t managed,” Harris said. “Instead of being detained in the county jail, these participants are able to stay employed, be with their family and get access to various resources and services that they need.”

Cavanaugh brought an amendment to the hearing that would move authority to administer program funds to the Nebraska Crime Commission.

State court administrator Corey Steel testified in a neutral capacity on LB1155. The crime commission already has a mechanism to administer funds to counties and would be the best fit to administer funds for the pilot program outlined in the bill, he said.

There currently are very robust pretrial programs run by the counties, Steel added, and the courts would not want to compete with those programs.

No one testified in opposition to LB1155 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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