The state of science around pretrial risk assessment

Date: May 18, 2022
Time: 3 – 4:30 p.m. Eastern
Eligible for: 1.5 CE Credits

Not able to attend this free webinar? All registrants will receive a free recording of the webinar if the registration form is submitted.


Pretrial risk assessment instruments are used in many jurisdictions to inform decisions regarding pretrial release and conditions. However, concern has been expressed regarding the use of these instruments in that they may be contributing to worsened pretrial outcomes. However, there are many misconceptions about pretrial risk assessment instruments themselves, the scientific evidence regarding their predictive validity, impact on pretrial decision-making, and their use in practice.

Dr. Sarah L. Desmarais, Senior Vice President and incoming President at Policy Research Associates, Inc. (PRA), and Dr. Samantha A. Zottola, Research Associate at Policy Research Associates, Inc. (PRA), will review pretrial risk assessment instruments, including a brief background on their history and development. Dr. Desmarais and Dr. Zottola will discuss the empirical evidence regarding their predictive validity and impact on decision making, including performance across subgroups defined by race, ethnicity, and gender.

Our presenters will also touch on the role of pretrial risk assessment instruments in current pretrial reform efforts, including recommendations for how their use may support, rather than detract from the goals of increasing equity, promoting transparency, and reducing unnecessarily restrictive conditions. You will receive 1.5 Continuing Education Credits upon completion of this webinar.

Presenter Bios:

Sarah L. Desmarais, Ph.D., is the Senior Vice President and incoming President at Policy Research Associates, Inc. (PRA). PRA is a certified Women-Owned Small Business that is a national leader in behavioral health research, technical assistance, training, and policy evaluation. Before joining PRA in 2021, Dr. Desmarais was a tenured Professor of Psychology at North Carolina State University. Dr. Desmarais works on issues at the intersection of public health, community safety, and social justice. Her current research is focused on evidence-based practices for reducing detention rates, especially among people with behavioral health needs. She provides technical assistance, evaluation services, and consultation to behavioral health, criminal justice, and intelligence agencies on problems and solutions for implementation, policy, and practice. Dr. Desmarais has authored more than 130 peer-reviewed publications and has received more than $10 million in grants and contracts from foundations and government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Justice, and the National Science Foundation.

Samantha A. Zottola, Ph.D., has been a Research Associate at Policy Research Associates, Inc. (PRA) since May of 2021. She is responsible for developing, managing, and disseminating research primarily focused on the criminal legal system. Dr. Zottola received her Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Cleveland State University in 2015. After graduating, she worked as a Psychometrist at the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court, helping to conduct various court-ordered evaluations. Dr. Zottola received her Ph.D. in Psychology from North Carolina State University in 2020. Her dissertation research focused on evidence-based practices for reducing jail populations and improving mental health screening in jails. Before joining PRA, Dr. Zottola worked as a postdoctoral research scholar with the Center for Family and Community Engagement at North Carolina State University. Dr. Zottola has authored several peer-reviewed publications in journals, including Criminal Justice and Behavior and Psychiatric Services.

Learning Objectives:
At the end of this webinar, participants will be able to…

  • Identify three or more pretrial risk assessment instruments, including their content and approach.
  • Describe the state of the research on the predictive validity of pretrial risk assessment instruments.
  • Discuss the context in which pretrial risk assessment instruments are being implemented, including considerations for practice and policy.

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