Blog Archives

Of the many encouraging developments in pretrial justice recently is the growing number of prosecutors who are publicly acknowledging the limitations of money bail and the value of doing things differently.

Some—like Kim Ogg and Kim Foxx, of Houston and Chicago, respectively—are high profile individuals who have yoked their career to a vision of pretrial justice that is fairer and more effective. Foxx has been aware of the special responsibility that prosecutors have in establishing trust with the people they serve, saying “I think saying our bail system is broken and having the credibility with the public - who already know it - matters, and then it means I can get buy-in to actively work to fix those things.” Others have only recently come to accept change after it was thrust upon them. Two examples of the latter come from Maryland, where last year’s statewide rule change placed money bail at the end of the line, behind non-monetary conditions of pretrial release.  Faced with several months of positive results, Baltimore County prosecutor Scott Schellenberger told the Daily Record, “The sky has not fallen.” The Frederick News-Post reported that Frederick County State’s Attorney Charles Smith, also an initial opponent of the change, conceded that he had seen “marginal good changes with no differences in failures to appear.” (more…)

Guest Blog by Jac Charlier, National Director for Justice Initiatives, TASC

As a kid I loved playing with Legos. The way they felt and sounded when I snapped them together, block after block, was always fun. Even more so was when my work was done and I would behold my latest creation. It was exciting to see how it turned out—unless that is, I was missing a piece or two. In those cases, I would look at what I had built and know it wasn’t right until I could find the right blocks to finish it. 

Just as with some of my Lego creations, our nation’s criminal justice system has been missing a few blocks, two of which snap on the very front of our criminal justice system. The first piece, called pre-arrest diversion, is uniquely important because it is the only block that can control—decrease or increase—the entry of people into our justice system. Pre-arrest diversion is the connection between law enforcement and treatment, and is done when a person is diverted away from the justice system and into the behavioral health system instead. Pre-arrest diversion goes by many names including QRT, CIT, Angel, Crisis Centers, DART, STEER, Co-Responders, Civil Citation, and LEAD to name just a few of the many emerging variations. (more…)

This week's Vlog features PJI CEO Cherise Fanno Burdeen offering thoughts for the upcoming year.

In 2009, Google embarked on a study to answer a simple question: Does management matter? For a company that prided itself on recruiting the best and brightest, with the notion that most problems could be solved with more technically skilled bosses, the answer was surprising. After mining through performance reviews, feedback surveys, and nominations for best manager (as only Google can do), technical expertise came dead last out of eight major characteristics. Instead, skills such as communication, commitment to employees and a shared vision were paramount. 

The lessons of the algorithm giant might seem obvious, but they also have significance for stakeholders working on pretrial issues. Modern pretrial assessments (or, technically speaking, algorithms) figure significantly in discussions on moving away from money bail. Assessments offer a data-driven way to look at pretrial release and the likelihood of a person appearing for court with no new arrests. Pretrial assessments not only can increase release rates, but also reduce implicit and systemic bias in pretrial release decisions. And they work best when coupled with guidance about how to respond (not react) to the score. (more…)

This time of year has many of us thinking about the children in our lives, even more so than usual. Holidays have much to do with kids, to share a sense of joy and wonder and to create memories with them. Maybe you are thinking about a gift that they will enjoy in particular, or a family tradition you want to share.

But for children and families in poverty, the holidays can also be a source of stress. The holidays can mean a time of hunger, as children lose access to free and reduced-lunch programs at school. Parents must try to work around child care issues. Heating bills can tax an already stretched family budget. (more…)

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…)