Fulton County, GA Transforms Justice With Odyssey Pretrial Services
Location: Fulton County, Georgia
Tyler Client: Since 2011
Employees: 54 staff members use Odyssey’s pretrial module (Intake Unit, Court Services, and the Supervision Unit)
Tyler Products Used: Odyssey® product suite
Fulton County, Georgia, is located in the north central portion of the state, with a population of 1,010,562, making it Georgia’s most populous county and the only county with more than 1 million inhabitants. Fulton County, created from DeKalb County in 1853, absorbed the counties of Milton (to the north) and Campbell (to the south) during the Great Depression. It is named for Robert Fulton, inventor of the steam-driven boat. Atlanta, the county seat and state capital, flourished as the terminal point on an early railroad, and residents initially called the city Terminus.
Technology is an important tool for improving the justice system. This case study is an example of how Fulton County used technology to streamline their pretrial release program that reduces reliance on a bond system that can be both unjust and expensive. The results speak for themselves. Fulton County produces more than 1,200 interviews per month (more than 14,000 per year) and tracks 1,600 active people on pretrial release at any given time. At a cost of ~$77 per inmate per day, they are saving approximately $7.4 million per year with their pretrial program.
Background — The Need for Pretrial Release
Jurisdictions need a fair and accurate way to predict the likelihood of a defendant offending while on pretrial release or failing to appear for court. A pretrial release decision based solely on a defendant’s ability to pay bail money penalizes the poor and violates their civil rights, and fails to protect the public. Automated, evidence-based pretrial risk assessment tools produce numerical scores that are better predictors of pretrial success and pretrial failure than the ability to pay bail.
In its 2012-2013 Policy Paper on Evidence-Based Pretrial Release, the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) advocated the presumptive use of non-financial release conditions and that court leaders adopt evidence-based risk assessment to set pretrial release conditions. The Conference of Chief Justices endorsed COSCA’s policy position in 2013, and subsequently, several state and local courts have engaged in pretrial justice reform efforts.
Fulton County — Pretrial Services Experience
Created in 1963, Pretrial Services has established itself as an integral component of the Fulton County criminal justice system. Pretrial Services contributes to the efficient administration of justice, minimizes unnecessary pretrial detention, and enhances community safety. In 1998, Pretrial Services underwent a modernization effort to include a more interview-based concept. In 2013, pretrial services processes were modified again to incorporate new Odyssey® capabilities, which helped the county achieve even greater efficiencies and increase transparency.
The Pretrial Services program provides Fulton Superior and State Court judicial officers with verified information that facilitates pretrial release determinations and the detention decision-making process at the earliest opportunity, and monitors defendants released to the program for compliance with their conditions of release.
Today, 54 staff members from the Intake Unit, as well as Court Services and the Supervision Unit use Odyssey’s pretrial module to help them manage the program. The Pretrial Services program has been successful in reducing incarcerations, jail time, and their associated costs. This decreases the injustice of keeping citizens in jail simply because citizens can’t make bail. In addition, the program helped achieve a higher rate of trial appearances versus those released on non-pretrial bonds (for example, cash, signature, and property).
How Odyssey Drives Pretrial Efficiencies
Fulton County implemented Tyler’s Odyssey integrated criminal justice suite in 2011, rolling 14 legacy systems into a single, unified case management system. Fulton uses a broad range of Odyssey applications, including Case Manager, Prosecutor, Supervision, Law Enforcement, Jail Manager, Financial Manager, and Public Access. The system shares crucial information across all justice entities, promoting timely information flows from the Jail using Odyssey Jail Manager to Pretrial Services using Odyssey’s pretrial interview to the Court using Odyssey Case Manager, and finally to Supervision using Odyssey Supervision.
Odyssey provided Fulton County with a completely integrated system, which eliminated the mundane process of checking and sorting through many databases for the right information. Automated processes allowed the county to pinpoint accurate data more quickly and easily. Fulton now knows who is booked into the jail and they can more efficiently check surrounding Odyssey counties using Tyler dataXchange™. Information is seamlessly integrated and date and time-stamped, decreasing errors, and helping staff find them sooner before they flow into the entire criminal justice system and disrupt processes.
In 2010, Fulton County merged two pretrial agencies into one — the State Court Pretrial Services (misdemeanors) and the Superior Court Pretrial Services (felonies) — which added cohesion and provided better information for judges to make decisions, as well as minimized jail time.
Fulton County started its pretrial services program in 1998, but with the adoption of Odyssey in 2013, the pretrial services program is now faster and more efficient. Fulton County Pretrial Services gathers and collects information for all arrestees charged with criminal offenses and booked into Fulton County jail. They track compliance success rates versus the general populations. Advanced conditional and branching logic is used in Odyssey’s pretrial interviews to simplify the interview process.
Fulton County automated much of the data collection process and automatically populates forms, helping streamline the process and make better decisions. The data is also shared with other agencies — improving their processes, and for example, it facilitates referrals to the public defender’s office, as well produces summary documents to facilitate a judge’s final release decision.
Capturing data allows the program to efficiently track:
- Judicial acceptance rates of their recommendations for pretrial release
- Failure to appear rates of defendants in the Pretrial Services program
- Recommendations are reviewed and compared to judicial decisions to improve the interview process
- Overall success of the supervision program, including program condition compliance
Fulton County is committed to refining and improving their pretrial assessment tool. They have begun work on a grant proposal set out to improve their risk assessment capabilities and implement the validated Arnold Foundation Public Safety Assessment (PSA) once it is released publicly (2018). They will also serve as pilot site with Tyler to automate Arnold Foundation PSA through Odyssey. In addition, they are reviewing the state of Kentucky’s pretrial assessment tool to incorporate aspects into their own variation of the assessment. Among other things, Tyler staff is helping Fulton with the additional tracking, analysis, and reporting of data that already exists in the Odyssey system that will allow Fulton to compare their results to those of the Arnold Foundation once they are published, and to make any necessary adjustments.
Not only does Fulton County benefit from the flexibility of the interview and from Odyssey reporting, but also from Odyssey’s automated workflow capability, which moves cases into appropriate electronic queues, driving paperless processes for the county. This more efficient workflow includes the four steps below, which are automated with Odyssey:
- As the defendant is booked into the jail, information flows automatically to the interviewer queue and the interviewer enters his/her recommendations.
- Recommendations flow to a supervisor queue for approval and recording.
- The case flows to the court services queue for presentation to the judge for review and final decision on release.
- The final decision of release is updated on the pretrial record and flows to the release queue to indicate the defendant should appear for supervision.
Results To Date
Using pretrial services, Fulton County produces more than 1,200 interviews per month (more than 14,000 per year) and tracks 1,100 felony clients and 500 misdemeanor clients, totaling 1,600, on pretrial release at any given time. In 2016, Fulton County booked more than 24,000 inmates, and 14,000 were eligible for an interview. Of those inmates, 3,500 were recommended for pretrial release, while more than 2,000 release recommendations were granted. Overall, 25 percent of all eligible inmates are recommended for release and 14 percent of individuals are released to pretrial services. At a cost of ~$77 per inmate per day, they are saving approximately $7.4 million per year with their pretrial program. At the same time, Fulton Pretrial Program has also maintained low failure to appear (FTA) rates of approximately three percent, in comparison to >10 percent for defendants on other types of release, resulting in the completion of the criminal justice process at a rate of three times the average for defendants not in the pretrial program.
Program Refinements and the Future
Fulton County is just getting started and the transformation of their systems using technology is far from complete. Next steps for refining their pretrial process and systems includes:
- Make a stronger correlation between release criteria and success
- Identify additional release opportunities
- Provide feedback to judges on effectiveness to reduce differences between recommendations and decisions
- Analyze causes of program failure to correlate with interview criteria and other offense data
- Build additional workflows to enable information to flow to other agencies
- Continue to improve risk assessment capabilities and refine interview based on Arnold Foundation results
- Automate risk assessments and serve as a test site for Tyler
- Train staff, judges and justice partners on the assessment tool
- Assess conditions of release based on risk level
With continued hard work and the use of technology, Fulton County is optimistic they can continue to eliminate or reduce the impact of systems and processes that are unjust.