The Pretrial Services Agency (PSA) for the District of Columbia is a long-recognized national leader in pretrial justice practices. The agency strongly adheres to the principle of least restrictive conditions, offers a wide array of release options, and operates in a jurisdiction that has virtually eliminated money bond. Moreover, these practices support the goals of public safety and court appearance. Ninety-one percent of people released in D.C. remain arrest free while their cases are being adjudicated, and ninety-percent (90 percent) of released defendants make all scheduled court appearances.
A pivotal step in PSA’s evolution toward becoming a model pretrial services agency was legislation passed in 1992 in the wake of a series of violent crimes. The legislation expanded the scope of pretrial detention, but John (Jay) Carver, the director of PSA at the time, was also successful in getting language inserted in the bill that prohibited the court from setting a financial bail that resulted in people remaining in jail.
The bill eliminated the practice of setting high money bond amounts to detain people and effectively returned the process to the detention provisions under law. In the year before the law’s passage, only 2 percent of cases were held under detention provisions; the year after passage, 15 percent of cases were detained. More recent measurements show that ninety percent of cases in the District of Columbia are released without money bond, five percent have financial conditions of release (but do not use commercial bonds), and the rest are held without bail. Carver also noted that while the 1992 act was important, it was part of a longer process of demonstrating how the pretrial release decision-making process could work without money bail.