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The following first appeared as a guest post on Facing Addiction's blog, News and Updates:

When I met Greg Williams, he shared with me his personal story and why he started Facing Addiction. He told me how important it was to him to bring together people affected by addiction and have them come out of the shadows of shame so they could leverage their collective political power. If he could empower the “anonymous people” affected by the policies being implemented on their behalf, he said, the narrative around addiction would change. And he told me about all the audacious ideas, concerts, and marches he pulled off (with a ton of help). I recognized in him a kindred spirit and committed to working with him in any way I could.

My name is Cherise and I lead a 40-year-old organization dedicated to bringing pretrial justice to millions of people who are arrested and booked each year into our nation’s jails. These people face a bleak choice: plead guilty to get out, or find the money to post a bond. Most often, they have to contract with and pay a for-profit commercial bail bonding industry, which— incredibly! —holds the keys to their jail cell. (more…)

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…)

American University’s Justice Programs Office held a summit last week on how the criminal justice community can continue to improve their systems by redefining practices and outcomes. Maintaining Momentum: Redefining the Purpose of Incarceration in the Ongoing Conversations about Criminal Justice Reform included speakers and attendees from all parts of the criminal justice spectrum, including law enforcement, pretrial services, defenders, judges, community advocates, and formerly incarcerated individuals.

Members of AU's Justice Programs Office with keynote speaker Glenn Martin.

The panel topics were wide-ranging, but several themes emerged, including

  • People who come through criminal justice systems must be humanized;
  • Justice systems need to reassess and redefine success; and
  • Reform initiatives must recognize the importance of state and local action.


Guest blog by Michael King, Director of Outreach & Engagement, Facing Addiction

The so-called War on Drugs, now in its fourth decade, has cost over $1 trillion and led to nearly 45 million arrests. As a result—and not surprisingly—the majority of the 65 million Americans with criminal records have struggled with a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. Yet accidental drug overdoses are now the leading cause of preventable death in America. 

One doesn’t need a deep knowledge of public policy to realize that arresting our way out of the addiction problem has not been, and will never be, successful.

Finally, a national non-profit organization is developing responses to America’s addiction crisis that can succeed—from presenting healthcare-related solutions to working with stakeholders in the critical area of criminal justice reform. (more…)

Guest blog by Stephen Handelman, Director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College, and executive editor of The Crime Report

In an era of fake news and alternative facts, accurate reporting has never been more important—especially in criminal justice. Justice reporters in particular are called upon to digest and interpret new developments and research. They’re crucial players in the ongoing national debate about how to fix our justice system, but even the best ones can find it hard to get up to speed quickly. This is especially true with topics like pretrial and bail reform, which suffer from both widespread misunderstanding and misinformation.

For more than a decade, the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College (CMCJ) has brought together journalists, policymakers and practitioners to discuss emerging criminal justice topics in an effort to target that critical gap between reporting and research. More than 800 journalists from around the country have participated in our symposia and workshops on issues ranging from mass incarceration and policing reform to pretrial justice. Our “flagship” annual John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America just ended recently. Entitled “Justice in the Trump Era: The State of American Criminal Justice (2017 and Beyond),” it involved more than two dozen journalists along with top scholars, practitioners and thought leaders. We were especially honored to include the Pretrial Justice Institute’s CEO, Cherise Fanno Burdeen, on a panel called “Jail or Bail: Rethinking Pretrial Justice.”   (more…)

Few people would imagine Utah as a hotspot for bail reform. But the state’s legislature recently published a scathing critique of how the for-profit money bond industry operates there. It’s called A Performance Audit of Utah’s Monetary Bail System, and it is worth the read. Because what happens in Utah is probably happening where you live, too. 

The report describes the results from a review conducted by the benign-sounding Office of the Legislative Auditor General into the effectiveness of monetary pretrial release conditions in the state. Specifically, they examined cash bail—which requires arrested people to pay the full amount of a bond to the court prior to release—and surety bond—which allows arrested people to pay a percentage of the bail amount to a for-profit bail bondsman. (more…)