When most of us think about the legal system, we usually think of a final verdict at a trial. But for an incarcerated individual, the pretrial decision is just as important.

The decision to detain someone or allow them to go home while they await trial affects outcomes inside and beyond the courtroom — from the possibility of being rearrested to the risk of losing custody of their children. Yet racial, ethnic, and gender disparities and other inequities in the pretrial system continue to impact the nearly 500,000 people awaiting trial from jail.

Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research’s mission is to support justice system professionals in achieving fair, just, and effective pretrial practices. They offer comprehensive research, support, and training to pretrial practitioners throughout the United States, with practices grounded in rigorous research, collaboration with justice system actors and affected communities, and ongoing measurement and refinement.

APPR has provided training and resources to hundreds of localities across the United States. With APPR’s assistance, jurisdictions around the country are increasing pretrial release rates without any negative impact on crime or court appearance rates.

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The Challenge

APPR had already developed a successful in-person training model. Yet geography, a large time commitment, and the cost of using consultants made scaling this model unfeasible. Existing online content was limited to downloadable documents, and this passive “self-service” approach did not engage learners.

An online program could eliminate geographic barriers and streamline administrative and support functions. Yet APPR didn’t want to just reach more people or digitize their operations. They sought to connect program participants so that they could support one another and optimize the learning experience — while maintaining the quality of their proven methods without significantly expanding their staff.

Extension Engine used our digital learning framework to understand APPR’s current capacity and formulate the right strategy based on APPR and their users’ needs and goals.

With this framework, APPR and Extension Engine established clear, measurable objectives. These ranged from short-term goals, such as learners successfully using resources and teams completing the program, to long-term objectives like identifying additional opportunities to improve the pretrial system.

Inside the Partnership




The Users

APPR supports a network of justice professionals across the United States serving various roles in the criminal justice system.

Despite the range of roles, backgrounds, regions, and procedural requirements, everyone in APPR’s network shares a commitment to furthering equity by gaining skills they can implement. They have ample motivation but little interest in purely theoretical knowledge or passive learning.

Graphic demonstrating loop of connection between Judge, Prosecutor, Defender, Pretrial Services Staff, and Sheriff

The Solution

Working with Extension Engine’s learning designers, user experience designers, product managers, and other experts, APPR launched a custom learning experience and an online community platform. Both sides of the learning experience focus on empowering justice system professionals to enhance their work and learn from experts as well as one another.

The “online workspace” focuses on actionable steps and clear deliverables in a methodical, collaborative process that brings together all stakeholders.

Program participants can access an expanding library of resources that inform and motivate them during and after the program.

Extension Engine worked with APPR to improve this bank of materials with high-quality videos featuring experts and tools designed to assess and improve practices.

The online community allows program participants to ask questions and start conversations with other practitioners across the country and find answers to their technical support queries. Administrators can distribute notifications about relevant topics or program updates.

APPR can also access analytics to monitor activity and assess the health of their community.

The Result

APPR’s Learning Sites Project launched with five pilot jurisdictions in summer 2020. Those pilot jurisdictions have now completed two-thirds of the program, which has expanded to ten sites.

Visitor traffic has doubled in less than a year, with nearly 400 individuals accessing the online workspace and community. One year into the program, survey data and progress reports from both the platform and program instructors indicate that all objectives are being met or are on track with positive results. Of learners surveyed about their overall experience with this project, 100% indicated that they can act on the online workspace’s information and guidance.

The online workspace is also being used to support other initiatives, including coordinating internal projects and additional training opportunities for other practitioners in the field. Now, APPR has the foundation to continue to grow their reach and scale their impact in a thoughtful way that always puts those they serve at the core of their work.

Dr. Scott Moore Principal Learning Strategist

Dr. Scott Moore is the Principal Learning Strategist at Extension Engine. He leads our global Custom Learning Experience practice. In his 5+ years with us, he has worked with dozens of nonprofit, higher education, and learning business organizations as they considered using online learning to support their mission and margin. He has a deep understanding of organizational dynamics, online learning, strategic differentiation, decision-making, and more. Prior to joining Extension Engine, Dr. Moore was a faculty member, administrator, and dean at Michigan Ross and Babson College for 20+ years. Scott holds an MBA from Georgia Tech and a Ph.D. in Decision Sciences from Wharton.