By Cherise Fanno Burdeen

The past few years have brought stunning successes in the movement to improve pretrial justice in America. We have seen, among other things, two state constitutional amendments allowing for the movement away from money bond; a growing body of litigation that has culminated most recently in a federal district judge calling bail practices in Harris County, TX, (Houston) a violation of the Constitution; the former Attorney General of the United States weighing in on a Maryland court rule; 45 states passing legislation to improve their systems; and 30 jurisdictions (including several states) implementing state-of-the-art pretrial risk assessment. 

This eloquent op-ed from a new (to me) voice from Michigan perfectly illustrates the amazing momentum we are now experiencing.

And yet, our opponents are are not backing down. To the contrary. Reading the same reports, news, and opinions, they draw the same conclusion as we do: Issues of fairness, safety, and cost make the overhaul of the money bond system inevitable. Like us, they know that time is on our side. And that means their only hope is to stop us. Not delay us. Not limit our success. But stop us. Now. (more…)


People of color are disproportionately represented in criminal justice systems in the United Kingdom (UK) just as they are in the United States. That’s why a new report by the UK-based non-profit organization, Catch22—a group that has provided public service delivery for more than 200 years—carries such relevance to our understanding of our justice systems and how to improve them. 

Fairness in the criminal justice system: What’s race got to do with it? presents findings from focus groups with people sentenced to English prisons, discussing issues of treatment and fairness, particularly as related to race. Participants expressed concern about a lack of racial diversity at all levels of the justice system—from law enforcement to prison staff—and described high levels of frustration at opaque decision making, leading to distrust in the intentions of the decision makers. The report recommends increasing diversity in criminal justice professions and creating a culture of transparency in justice decision making.


Earlier this month, PJI released an edited interview with Roseanne Scotti, New Jersey state director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and one of the leaders of the successful effort to pass sweeping pretrial legislation in 2014. Improving Pretrial Justice in New Jersey offers a candid assessment of the challenges the New Jersey coalition faced and the elements that led to their success.

These include

  • the importance of forming a broad-based coalition of support in the early stages of improvement efforts,
  • listening closely to the concerns and fears of stakeholders and communities, and
  • being ready for the influential and well-financed opposition from the bail industry.

All are useful lessons for other states and localities pursuing similar, much-needed changes.

Since the new laws went into effect in January, (more…)


Every day, all across America, women are arrested and detained unnecessarily for no reason other than their inability to purchase their release using money bail. Many care for families that must endure their absence and scramble to find money in order to see them released.

This year a coalition of nearly 20 advocacy and social justice organizations are stepping up to do something about the problem. In the week prior to Mother’s Day, the groups will take part in National Mama’s Bail Out Day, a coordinated effort initiated by the Atlanta-based Southerners On New Ground, which developed the idea after noticing how many women were in jail unconvicted.


A new study from Texas A&M University reveals some striking comparisons between two Texas counties with very different approaches to pretrial release decisionmaking: Tarrant County, which relies almost exclusively on money bail, and Travis County, which relies largely on validated risk assessment to inform release decisions without financial requirements. The study has significant implications for Texas, where only five counties out of 254 report using a validated risk assessment.

The study, conducted at the request of the Texas Judicial Council’s Criminal Justice Committee, analyzed 3.5 years of criminal case data from both counties. Major findings include, (more…)