Yamhill County, Oregon, encompasses 718 square miles and is home to more than 102,000 residents (2015 U.S. Census Bureau). It is approximately 40 miles southwest of the heart of Portland. The county’s population is 90.9% white, 15.9% Hispanic or Latino, 2.0% American Indian or Alaskan native, and 1.1% black or African American. Agriculture, small manufacturing, and the service sector are the primary employers. The median household income is $53,864. Just over 15% of the population lives below the poverty level.
The Yamhill County Jail can house 259 inmates but most often operates well under capacity, with an average daily population typically under 200. Yamhill County Department of Community Justice supervises just over 1,000 adult offenders on misdemeanor and felony probation, and on post-prison supervision. The county also has a Day Management Center, where medium and high risk Community Justice clients receive employment support services.
Yamhill County has four circuit court judges who operate problem solving courts, including an adult drug court, a mental health court (Court Coordinated Services), a restitution court, and a family drug court (Women’s Recovery Court).
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Prior to joining the EBDM initiative, Yamhill County benefitted from an active Local Public Safety Coordinating Council (LPSCC) composed of county leadership, justice system stakeholders, other county service agencies, and citizens. The multidisciplinary council and its associated policy team advise and make critical decisions on local public safety concerns. Another committee works in parallel to address concerns regarding the delivery of mental health and chemical dependency services, and to identify alternatives to incarceration for those suffering from mental illness.
Yamhill County’s interest in the EBDM initiative was fueled by their commitment to policy improvement through data-driven approaches and concerns about rapid population growth in the face of diminishing resources. County leadership identified EBDM as an opportunity to advance criminal justice policy and practice using a research-informed approach. In selecting Yamhill County to serve as an EBDM pilot site, NIC acknowledged the collaborative history among key stakeholders and their previous efforts to use data-driven management strategies to improve local justice system practices.
YAMHILL COUNTY’S EBDM VISION, MISSION, AND TEAM
The vision of the Yamhill County EBDM Policy Team is “a safer community where professionals work together utilizing data, research, and evidence-based practices in the criminal justice system.” Their mission speaks to the team’s steadfast commitment to harm reduction: “Yamhill County will experience enhanced public safety, a reduction in the number of victims, greater offender accountability, and a reduced threat of harm through the appropriate application of proven practices at all phases of the criminal justice process.” The team is comprised of:
- the presiding judge;
- a county commissioner;
- the district attorney;
- the sheriff;
- a defense attorney;
- a victim advocate;
- the director of Yamhill County Health and Human Services; and
- the director of community corrections.
YAMHILL COUNTY’S CHANGE TARGETS
The Yamhill County EBDM Policy Team, with assistance from their EBDM TA provider, started along the Phase II planning roadmap to assess the degree to which research evidence guided their decisions, and to identify strengths, challenges, and targets for future policy and practice. The team engaged in a comprehensive analysis and system mapping of the local justice system from arrest to discharge. As a result of this process, the team created work groups to focus on four areas: pretrial decision making, sentencing, correctional treatment programming, and policies and services for individuals with special needs. The policy team developed logic models and implementation strategies for each change target in Phase II; in Phase III, they put their implementation strategies in place. (For more information on these change targets, see Yamhill County’s Phase III implementation plan.) This case study offers a summary of Yamhill County’s work in two areas:
- implementation of an evidence-based pretrial justice system; and
- establishment of a “case analysis” process to inform sentencing decisions.
An analysis of the Yamhill County jail during Phase II of EBDM revealed that 56% of the detained pretrial population fell into the low risk category. Although pretrial defendants were assessed, the county had not been using a validated instrument, nor was a formal structure for pretrial supervision in place. Following a review of the pretrial literature and practice examples from other jurisdictions, the team designed an evidence-based pretrial release and supervision program.
Following a review of available pretrial assessment tools, the EBDM pretrial work group selected the Virginia Pre-Trial Risk Assessment Instrument (VPRAI). The county’s pretrial release officer and jail booking officers received training on the VPRAI; other key stakeholders (judges, defense bar, and prosecutors) were briefed on the tool as well. To support its use, the team finalized policies and procedures, developed agency-specific release guidelines, and designed risk-based pretrial supervision levels. Pilot implementation of the VPRAI began in November 2012.
As Yamhill was gearing up to pilot the VPRAI, the state of Oregon released the Oregon Public Safety Checklist (PSC)–a fully automated actuarial assessment of risk developed and normed on a large sample of justice-involved persons in the state. The Yamhill County EBDM Policy Team decided to pilot and collect data on both the VPRAI and the PSC simultaneously to determine which was more predictive of pretrial misconduct for their population.
As a result of the pilot and data collection effort, Yamhill found that the PSC, while not intended to serve as a pretrial tool, was a better predictor of pretrial outcomes among their local population across all risk levels. The PSC also offered a practical utility: administration of the tool does not require an interview, contributing to its ease of use, particularly by jail booking officers. The policy team agreed to adopt the PSC as their pretrial risk assessment tool but retained the VPRAI as a secondary tool when a PSC score was not available (e.g., lack of an assigned defendant state identification number; extensive out-of-state criminal history).
Yamhill County’s pretrial efforts culminated in the development of a formal pretrial assessment process informed by a tool validated on the local population. Under the new program, guidelines were established to enable the sheriff’s jail deputies to identify and release some detainees at jail booking. Considerations include, among others, the severity of the criminal charge and the defendant’s PSC risk score.
For those not eligible for release at jail booking, the county’s pretrial services officer (PSO) conducts a full pretrial investigation. Once completed, the PSO uses the policy team-developed pretrial release risk matrix to formulate a release and supervision recommendation, which is documented in a pretrial release recommendation report and provided to the court at arraignment.
In addition to implementing the pretrial assessment, Yamhill County’s enhanced pretrial release process included the development of a “second look” process. Defendants who remain in pretrial detention are reviewed 5–10 days following arraignment to determine if pretrial release is possible.
Finally, Yamhill implemented an automated court date notification system in an effort to maximize court appearance rates. Data reflects that a large majority of pretrial defendants are receiving delivered court notifications: of 1,341 notices sent in the first quarter of 2016, 81% were deemed successful in message delivery.
“In my nearly 40 years working in the criminal justice system, I have observed many changes. Three stand out: the increased role and respect paid to victims of crime, the increased effectiveness of interventions for the welfare of children in juvenile court, and the implementation of evidence-based ‘smart sentencing’ and other evidence-based decision making throughout the process. I believe the time has never been riper for advancement of EBDM than now, when we face a critical need for greater effectiveness and cost reduction.”
Presiding Judge John Collins, Yamhill County, Oregon
Analysis of local data reveals several findings of import. First, data from the first quarter of 2016 reflects a high concurrence rate (89%) between the PSO’s recommendations and the court’s decisions at arraignment. Second, the pretrial jail population has been reduced by approximately 18% (the average daily pretrial population was 45% pre-program, compared to 37% post-program). Finally, FTA rates have been positively impacted: the 2015 FTA rate was 17% compared to 4% for the first three quarters of 2016. 11 Data on pretrial misconduct (technical violations and new crime) were not available at the time of this writing.
The Yamhill County Department of Community Justice (formerly, Yamhill County Community Corrections) had long been using risk assessment data for supervision purposes prior to participating in EBDM. At the same time, local practice was to hand down sentence conditions based upon crime type rather than criminogenic factors. Through their Phase II work, the stakeholder team gained an appreciation for the value of needs assessment information and concluded that its availability at sentencing would result in conditions that were better matched to needs. As a result, the team developed a “case analysis process” to provide information to all parties (court, prosecution, defense) following conviction but prior to sentencing. The process resulted in the referral of felony presumptive community supervision cases to probation for screening using the PSC. Those assessed as medium risk or above were administered the Level of Service/Case Management Inventory (LS/CMI). Risk/need assessment results, as well as additional specialized assessments (e.g., sex offenders, domestic violence, motivation), were conducted as appropriate and their results were captured on a Case Analysis Report.
In 2013, in response to the passage of HB 3194, the case analysis process was modified to provide prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges with risk/needs information for nonviolent presumptive prison cases. The Case Analysis Report became the Defendant Analysis Report (DAR); it is prepared prior to sentencing to help identify individuals who could be safely managed in the community. (With the implementation of the DAR, the older case analysis process was discontinued due to insufficient resources for both. However, Yamhill County hopes to reinstitute the process to better match appropriate probation conditions with risk and needs factors.)
Under the current DAR process, eligible defendants are referred to probation for assessment following arraignment on an indictment. A validated assessment instrument (LS/CMI for males, the Women’s Risk Needs Assessment for females) is used to assess risk along with other assessments (e.g., substance use, mental health, motivation) as needed. Gender-specific responsivity factors and strengths/protective factors are assessed as well. The process includes a detailed defendant interview which takes about three hours to complete. The officer completing the DAR provides a recommendation regarding suitability for community supervision (no recommendation regarding sentence length is made); the results are shared with stakeholders prior to sentencing.
Yamhill County has analyzed the impact of the DAR process in terms of the court’s concurrence rate with probation’s recommendations and its impact on prison admissions. Their findings are as follows:
- In early 2016, approximately 65% of the DAR assessments resulted in a recommendation of probation; the court’s concurrence rate with these recommendations was 67%. The remaining 35% of cases were not recommended for probation; the court concurred with these recommendations at the rate of 100%. Overall, this represents an 80% concurrence rate between probation’s recommendations and the court’s sentencing decision.
- As of April 2015, Yamhill saw an 11% reduction in prison use, exceeding their target of 6% (Oregon Justice Reinvestment Summit Presentation, April 5, 2015). Between October 2013 and July 2016, Yamhill County calculated that the DAR process resulted in a total savings of over 1,000 prison months.
- In an analysis of a sample of 49 DAR cases that the court decided to place on probation per the DAR recommendation instead of send to prison per Oregon State Sentencing Guidelines, only 4 (8.2%) were revoked due to technical violations and no cases were revoked as a result of new crimes.
Yamhill County’s EBDM efforts have led to several significant developments:
- The county was accepted into the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative-Local (JRI) in 2011. The county’s participation in JRI has provided further support for the pretrial program. In July 2013, Oregon implemented their statewide Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which brought financial resources to Yamhill County to fund an automated data system and the hiring of two additional PSOs. The automated pretrial case management system, Pretrial Justice Information System (PJIS), went live in August 2016; it allows pretrial stakeholders remote access to real-time data about pretrial defendants and significant analytic and reporting features for purposes of continued performance measurement.
- Since the implementation of their pretrial program, Yamhill has received numerous requests from colleague counties for additional information. This resulted in the convening of a one-day “Pretrial Summit” in June 2016, which was attended by representatives from 15 counties, the state Criminal Justice Commission, and the State Judicial Department, and it has led to a statewide focus on pretrial reform through the governor’s Public Safety Task Force.
- Interest in Yamhill’s DAR process has led to its replication in nine additional Oregon counties.