As any reasonably educated fifth-grader will tell you, our form of government relies upon a system of checks and balances between the executive, judiciary, and legislative branches. As part of that system, the judiciary is allowed to set its own rules for procedures within the court, although in some states, this domain has been challenged. 

In Utah, for example, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Matthew Durrant, had decided to employ a pretrial assessment tool as a means of providing judges with better information. This decision was the result of two studies from the Utah Judicial Council and the Office of the Legislative Auditor General which showed that judges lacked sufficient information to make fair or safe pretrial decisions. (more…)


By Cherise Fanno Burdeen

Two weeks ago PJI released The State of Pretrial Justice in America, a nationwide report card measuring each state’s—and America’s—progress toward safe, fair, and effective pretrial justice. Our goal in issuing this report was to stimulate thought and conversation about the need for reform in every state, not just those where action has already begun. 

The response has been overwhelming. Nearly 100 reporters, many of whom had never written about this topic before, contacted us, generating coverage from coast to coast and more than 5,600 downloads.  

Not surprisingly, many people contacted us to dispute their grades. Sometimes, within the same state, some called for a higher grade while others felt we’d been too generous.

We also heard from people who wanted to know more about the measures we chose—pretrial detention rate, use of pretrial assessment, and elimination of money bail—and why we chose them. The simple answer is twofold: We have always been focused on lowering pretrial detention rates and eliminating the use of money bond, and our longstanding theory of change is that pretrial assessment can move court culture towards those goals.

Two states have provided us with information that eluded us in our research. Have something else to add? We have created a special email address ( for sending information or providing feedback.

Someone had to go first, and we’re proud of trying something motivated by setting a standard for accountability that compares states and grades the country as a whole, wanting it to be maximally useful to change leaders on the ground. When hundreds of thousands of people are needlessly detained every day, D is the grade we, as a country, deserve.  

What’s next? In early 2018, we begin the process of selecting the next round of measures, data collection, and reporting. As more places implement reform, we may, for example, want to includes measures that ensure courts aren’t simply replacing unnecessary pretrial detention with onerous pretrial supervision, or continuing to disproportionately burden people of color. Next year’s State of Pretrial will incorporate the feedback we have already received, and we are exploring ways to engage and partner with others in the process.  So stay in touch, and stay tuned.   


The Pretrial Justice Institute released the first-ever effort to gauge the quality of pretrial practice and outcomes across the United States. The State of Pretrial Justice in America, uses three simple indicators—the rate of pretrial detention; the use of evidence-based pretrial assessment; and continued reliance on money bail—to grade each state and the nation. View the State of Pretrial Justice in America 2017.

This week's Vlog features PJI VP Rachel Sottile Logvin at the October 2017 meeting of the Safety and Justice Challenge Network. Taking a close look at pretrial systems gives jurisdictions a chance to rethink how they use jail.

By Wendy Shang

The idea that bail in the form of money bond is an ancient practice has been bubbling up lately, with the implication that we cannot tamper with a practice so firmly ensconced in our legal tradition. While the importance of liberty before trial is part of our legal heritage and values, the differences between how bail was practiced in the past and the practice we have now are worth noting. 

Without getting too deeply into British legal history (look up wergeld and frankpledge if you have a hankering for more knowledge, or read Tim Schnacke’s excellent “Model” Bail Laws: Re-Drawing the Line Between Pretrial Release and Detention), we can say this: While bail has in many circles become synonymous with money, history shows that the imperative legacy of bail is its function as a means of release. The dominant form of release in early English history was essentially a personal surety system, where a person—the surety—agreed to take responsibility over defendants. The surety in this case was not allowed to profit from this arrangement, nor was the surety even allowed to accept a promise of reimbursement in the event that the accused defaulted on the payment—i.e., indemnification. (more…)