Thursday, March 13, 2014

An Assessment of the New Orleans Pretrial Services Program is No Assessment at All

I was recently forwarded a new study put out by the National Institute of Corrections.  The study was authored by Tara Boh Klute and Lori Eville and was titled “An Assessment of the New Orleans Pretrial Services Program.”  As I read this study and thought about its purpose more questions were being raised in my mind than answered.  That being said, below are the three big questions and issues that surface for me in this assessment report.

First, if this report is supposed to be an assessment of the VERA Institute’s efforts in managing the New Orleans pretrial services program than why is the National Institute of Corrections conducting the assessment?  Doesn’t the NIC focus on prison populations?   I would think that managing a post-conviction prison population is very different than managing a pre-trial jail population.  Comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges.  It is like asking your gardener to assess how well your house is built.  You would think that an organization looking to assess a pretrial release program would at minimum have expertise and experience in what they were trying to assess.  That is very obviously not the case here.

Second, in order for an assessment to be a true assessment you must have a set of meaningful and “relevant” criteria in which you are using to measure the success or failure of what you are assessing.  Now, this study does have a set of criteria which it is using to measure the success of the VERA pretrial program, the problem however, is that the criteria being used are meaningless and irrelevant to actually measuring the success or effectiveness of the program.  This so called assessment is measuring whether or not VERA’s pretrial release program meets the criteria of the National Association of Pretrial Services Programs.  In other words, they are measuring themselves against their own philosophical standards as opposed to truly measuring their effectiveness in getting defendants back to court.  Doing a study that says that VERA is doing a great job at following NAPSA’s standards is meaningless if following NAPSA’s standards for pretrial release does nothing to guarantee a defendant’s appearance in court…and by the way, they don’t.   In fact, one doesn’t have to look hard to find a study that shows that public sector pretrial service programs are the least effective way to get a defendant back to court.  Conducting an assessment in this way would be like grading a student’s test based on whether he brought a pencil and paper to the test as opposed to whether he got the answers correct.

Lastly, this so called assessment in my opinion is a complete and utter waste of tax dollars.  The city of New Orleans has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on the VERA Institute and its ineffective pretrial release program.  What makes this wasteful use of tax dollars even more egregious is that there is a more effective, less expensive private sector option that guarantees its performance to the courts.  That option, of course, is commercial bail.  It makes no sense at all for the NIC to assess the effectiveness of a program such as this.  The City of New Orleans and its taxpaying residents are the ones who have paid for VERA and its failed programs.  They should be the ones demanding results and objective measurement not politically driven meaningless assessments.  When you hire someone to do a job for you, do you assess how good the job is by how well the vendor did at meeting his own personal standards or do you measure success by how well the vendor did at meeting your standards?  The people of New Orleans deserve better.  They deserve to see who the VERA institute is letting out of jail for FREE.  They deserve to see how these individuals are being assessed and ranked by VERA.  They deserve to see VERA’s true measure of success…how many defendants are showing up for court and how many are committing crimes while out on FREE release.  These are the criteria that matter; these are the criteria that should be assessed.

It is time that the public sector starts meeting the same criteria and standards that the private sector has to meet.  Instead of paying taxpayer dollars to conduct a meaningless assessment that has no purpose other than to pat an ineffective organization on the back for “trying their best” as opposed to “getting the job done” is wasteful and worse, shameful.

Remember that I am only scratching the surface here.  There is much more to talk about with this assessment, but that will be left for another blog post.  I look forward to your comments.  Below is a link to the assessment.

An Assessment of New Orleans Pretrial Services

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