PSA's History and Role in the Criminal Justice System

In 2012, Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia (PSA) celebrated its 45th anniversary as an agency serving the nation’s capital. PSA was among the handful of pioneer pretrial agencies established in the 1960s. The work of PSA started under the auspices of the D.C. Bail Project in 1963 with a Ford Foundation grant. It was formalized as an agency under the Executive Office of the Mayor with the passage of the Bail Agency Act in 1967, the name was changed to the D.C. Pretrial Services Agency in 1978, and again in 2012 to its current name. PSA is now an independent entity within the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (PSA). PSA was established by the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act of 1997 and was certified as a federal agency under the Executive Branch in August 2000.

It is of foremost importance to note that PSA’s governing statute precludes us from supervising surety bail releases in the D.C. Superior Court and we are among a minority of pretrial agencies in the nation that do not recommend financial bond. We adhere to the standards set forth by the American Bar Association, National District Attorneys’ Association, and National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies, which strongly encourage the use of non-financial release, the use of financial release only when non-financial options are not sufficient to ensure appearance and the abolition of commercial surety bail. PSA is in the forefront of achieving these national standards.

PSA assists judicial officers in both the D.C. Superior Court and the U.S. District Court by formulating release recommendations and providing supervision and treatment services to defendants which reasonably assure that those on conditional release return to court and do not engage in criminal activity pending their trial and/or sentencing. As a result of performing these tasks, unnecessary pretrial detention is minimized, jail crowding is reduced, public safety is increased and the pretrial release process is administered fairly. PSA is a widely recognized national leader in the pretrial field. PSA’s pretrial drug testing and innovative supervision and treatment programs are regarded as models for the criminal justice system. Innovation, effective use of technology, and the development of human capital lead to organizational excellence, transparency, high professional and ethical standards, and accountability to the public.

The Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia (PSA) performs two critically important tasks that contribute significantly to the effective administration of justice.

PSA gathers and presents information about newly arrested defendants and available release options for use by judicial officers in deciding what, if any, conditions are to be set for released defendants. PSA recommends the least restrictive conditions of release to the community that promote public safety and return to court. Virtually no defendants currently are released on surety bonds from D.C. Superior Court, which PSA considers as one of its measures of success.

PSA supervises defendants released from custody during the pretrial period by monitoring their compliance with certain conditions of release and helping to assure that they appear for scheduled court hearings. PSA supervision gives defendants the opportunity to participate in a variety of pro-social interventions in an effort to decrease the likelihood of future criminal behavior.

A judicial officer – a judge or magistrate judge – makes the initial pretrial release decision after taking into account the representations of the prosecutor and the defense attorney, as well as PSA‘s release recommendation. PSA provides objective, verified data about each defendant to assist in judicial decision-making. PSA recommendations are designed to manage flight and public safety risks associated with releasing defendants. Throughout the pretrial release period, PSA notifies the Court, prosecution, and defense counsel of defendant non-compliance. This information allows all of the parties to respond promptly to violations and fulfill their common purpose of serving the community.

When PSA performs these tasks, unnecessary pretrial detention is minimized, jail crowding is reduced, public safety is increased and the pretrial release process is administered fairly.