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Earlier this month, an Alabama judge signed an administrative order that effectively eliminated the use of secured bail in his county. Presiding Circuit Judge Jerry Selman’s order also requires Walker County courts to conduct initial appearance and indigency hearings within forty-eight hours of arrest. Judge Selman’s order demonstrates two key ways that jurisdictions are moving to improve their pretrial justice practices. 

First, the Walker County order appears to be driven by a desire to avoid litigation. A similar order was signed last year in neighboring Jefferson County after the ACLU and others threatened to sue the county over money-based detention of unconvicted people. One news report states that “In at least one case involving Walker County, plaintiffs have come forward stating that they were held in violation of their constitutional rights.” (more…)

Litigation has been a successful strategy in challenging longstanding money bail practices across the country. In just a few years groups like Civil Rights Corps and Equal Justice Under Law have changed the pretrial legal landscape, resulting in more equitable treatment of arrested individuals.

The for-profit bail industry has been active in fighting these cases and has now put its weight (and money) behind two legal challenges against recent pretrial system improvements in New Jersey and New Mexico. 

We recommend you read the complaints (linked here and here) and assess each case for yourself. Before you make up your mind about the merits of these cases, however, we’d like to add some context. Both hinge on two key notions. The first is the “option of bail”—defined by bail industry proponents as the option to pay a financial bond for one’s pretrial release. The second notion concerns the imposition of “pre-arraignment restraints”—characterized in the complaints as release conditions, such as home detention or electronic monitoring, that seek to limit the movement of certain individuals as they await trial in the community. (more…)

A lot of folks are talking about “risk assessment” these days. And that’s good. But it’s important that everyone is clear about what it means (and doesn’t mean) when we use this term. At PJI, risk assessment is almost always accompanied by a handful of other words: pretrial, evidence-based, and actuarial. Here’s why:

Pretrial—The criminal justice system uses risk assessment at different times for a variety of purposes—including decisions about sentencing, incarceration security levels, and conditions for post-adjudication supervision. Needs assessments are a completely separate evaluation done to determine whether an individual might benefit from supports such as substance use or behavioral health treatment—which is important when crafting a good support structure for adjudicated people who may benefit from treatment. Among all of the points at which risk is being assessed, pretrial risk stands out because it focuses on measuring only two specific behaviors—court appearance and rearrest—during a specific time frame—between arrest and trial. As such, the factors used to determine pretrial risk level (e.g., prior convictions) and the comparison cases (similar people released before trial in the recent past) are far more limited than those used in other risk assessments. This makes pretrial tools and their results much more accurate. (more…)

By Cherise Fanno Burdeen, chief executive officer

Last week, U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Rand Paul introduced SB 1539, the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017, which encourages states to move away from money bond and ensure they are using legal and evidence-based pretrial justice practices. We were delighted to have been able to support the drafters of this bill and to work with partner organizations to gather up support. This is a bipartisan effort, sponsored by two senators with pretrial justice wins at home—California is poised to pass sweeping legislation (Assembly Bill 42 and Senate Bill 10) and Kentucky was the first state to deploy the Arnold Foundation’s Public Safety Assessment statewide.

Why does it matter if Congress weighs in on bail reform? Isn’t bail a state and local function? (more…)

“Planet Money,” NPR’s popular podcast (“The Economy Explained”), recently explored New Jersey’s shift away from money-based pretrial justice. Episode 783: New Jersey Bails Out is worth listening to and sharing with anyone who wants to understand this historic change—which is rapidly becoming a model for the nation.

In less than 20 minutes, Joel Rose and Keith Romer expose the injustice of detaining low-risk poor and working class people who cannot afford bail and the dangers of releasing higher-risk people who can. They also explain the basics of pretrial risk assessment, and highlights why, in just a few months, the new system has been so successful.

NPR’s reporting complements Improving Pretrial Justice in New Jersey, a candid interview with one of the architects of the new system that PJI produced as part of the 3DaysCount campaign to set a new standard for pretrial justice in America.  

A new report out of San Francisco underscores—once again—how money bail fails the jurisdictions that use it and the people forced to pay for their liberty.

Do the Math: Money Bail Doesn’t Add Up for San Francisco, issued by the Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector of the City & County, details how the city’s current practices create a two-tiered system—one for those with money and another for those without—that siphons wealth away from the poorest communities and into the pockets of predatory, poorly regulated corporate surety companies. (more…)

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…)