The germination of the concept of "pretrial services" can readily be traced to 1841. At the time, an individual named John Augustus was engaged in Boston as a cordwainer, or shoemaker. In his autobiographical work, A Report On The Labors Of John Augustus, Augustus wrote:
- "In the month of August, 1841, I was in court one morning, when the door communicating with the lock-room was opened and an officer entered, followed by a ragged and wretched looking man, who took his seat upon the bench alloted to prisoners. I imagined from the man's appearance, that his offense was that of yielding to his appetite for intoxicating drinks, and in a few moments I found that my suspicions were correct, for the clerk read the complaint, in which the man was charged with being a common drunkard. The case was clearly made out, but before sentence had been passed, I conversed with him for a few moments, and found the he was not yet past all hope and reformation....He told me that if he could be saved from the House of Correction, he never again would taste intoxicating liquors; there was such an earnestness in that tone, and a look of expressive of firm resolve, that it determined to aid him; I bailed him, by permission of the Court. He was ordered to appear for sentence in three weeks from that time. He signed the pledge and became a sober man; at the expiration of this period....I accompanied him into the courtroom....The Judge expressed himself much pleased with the account we gave of the man, and instead of the usual penalty, -imprisonment in the House of Correction, -he fined him one cent and costs, amounting in all to $3.76, which was immediately paid. The man continued industrious and sober, and without doubt has been by this treatment, saved from the drunkard's grave."
John Augustus, the acknowledged founder of probation in the United States, can also be said to be the founder of pretrial services as witnessed by the above account but while probation received a statutory beginning in Massachusetts in 1878, it would be many years before pretrial services commenced.
In 1927, Arthur Beeley studied the bail system, as it then existed, in the city of Chicago. Twenty-seven years later, Caleb Foote conducted a similar study in Philadelphia. Both researchers found a number of abuses of the bail system including unnecessary detention of the poor, the use of bail to punish defendants prior to determination of guilt and the impropriety of using bail bondsmen as release brokers for the court. The researchers concluded that judges should establish bail based on the social backgrounds and circumstances of defendants, rather than on the circumstances of the alleged offense or ability to raise money.
An additional development in the bail reform, and ultimately, pretrial services occured in 1961 when Louis Schweitzer created the Vera Foundation in New York City in response to jail overcrowding. Vera's three year study, known as the Manhattan Bail Project, revealed that a system of bail based on verified social data, rather than wealth, was both possible and efficient.
In the Federal System, long before the Manhattan Bail Project, and even longer before Senator Sam Ervin introduced bail reform legislation in 1964, the Eastern District of New York developed one of the major components of pretrial services, Adult Diversion, formerly named "The Brooklyn Plan", or "Deferred Prosecution" on April 26, 1937. On the latter date, the Office of the United States Attorney, under Leo J. Hickey, made the first referral of a juvenile to the Probation Department under then Chief Conrad Printzlein for supervision with the prospect of dismissal of the charges if the juvenile adjusted well. Deferred Prosecution was created to prevent the stigma of a criminal conviction for a youth who did not have a serious criminal record and who made every effort to abide by the socially acceptable standards of behavior while under supervision. Over the years, the Plan was adopted in an ever-increasing number of federal and local jurisdictions, both informally and legislatively, and it was ultimately given Congressional sanction in 1982 (Title 18 U.S. Code Section 3152).
The creation and mission of federal pretrial services agencies hinges on a number of significant Congressional acts including the Bail Reform Act of 1966 (18 USC 3146), the Speedy Trial Act of 1974 (18 USC 3152), the Pretrial Services Act of 1982 (PL 97-267), the Bail Reform Act of 1984 (18 USC 3142), the Crime Control Act of 1990 (PL 101-647) and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (PL 103-322).
The Pretrial Services Agency of the Eastern District of New York, itself, was orginally established in 1976 as one of 10 experimental districts pursuant to the Speedy Trial Act of 1974. It was governed by a Board of Trustees and remained in existence until 1984 when the agency was incorporated within the district's Probation Department. Nine years later, the Board of Judges of the district returned the functions of pretrial services to an independent agency, and on February 15, 1993, the recreated agency began to function.