Federal Pretrial Services: Getting Defendants "Confident" And Less Embarrassed For Trial

The federal Pretrial Services Agency in Houston has launched a new program that basically counsels felony defendants who are out on bond and awaiting a federal trial.

But in the program's early stages, things haven't gone exactly as planned.

According to Cynthia McMurray-Smith, an officer with the pretrial service, the program is designed to treat defendants, before trial, like they're innocent, hopefully making them feel more relaxed, confident and less embarrassed.

It also helps them prepare for a guilty verdict and prison.

The program teamed up with Texas Southern University and Houston Community College to survey about 70 federal defendants before and after they went through the counseling.

Trouble is, after the program, five percent more people said they now "expect the worst" from a federal trial.

The survey didn't gather information about the reasons they felt that way.

But that was about the only negative. More defendants did feel "confident" after the counseling, and they felt less embarrassed. More importantly, they felt better about how their children would cope with a federal trial.

The program also educates defendants on how to find mental health care, substance abuse treatment, and food and housing assistance while awaiting a trial. Unfortunately, the study didn't gauge how many people actually accessed these services.

McMurray-Smith said, however, that more studies and surveys are sure to come as the program progresses.  And even if everything hasn't gone as planned so far, we hope the program continues to head in the right direction.

"Evaluation is not always looked upon favorably in the public sector, so we congratulate the courts for taking on an evaluation," Helen Taylor Greene, a professor at TSU who served as a "project consultant" to the new program, said at press conference earlier today. "We still don't know what works, but we have moved on to find solutions."

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