Blog Archives

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…)

For several months, PJI has been promising that our upcoming Worldwide Pretrial Innovators Convention, or Pi-Con, will be different, special, and “unlike any other justice gathering you’ve been to.” Now that Pi-Con is just six weeks away, it’s time we explain exactly why it will be so unique. 

For starters, Pi-Con is a convention, not a conference. Conferences involve a lot of sitting, listening, and one-way information flow—the “good stuff” usually happens during breaks and evenings. At Pi-Con, you’ll be part of the action all day, developing solutions to major issues, honing your skills, and challenging yourself at “Pretrial Bootcamp.”

For example, you will hear Jessica Jackson from #cut50 talk about pretrial and mass incarceration in the “UP Incubator,” then share your perspective in our video booth. In the “Action Lab,” you’ll meet practitioners who have been successful in the field, and then work with them on practical strategies you can bring back to your system. We have even invited select members of the media to participate so they can ask more probing questions about the current system and proposed changes. (more…)

New Jersey’s sweeping and long-awaited bail reforms passed a crucial final hurdle just before New Year’s when the state’s little-known Council on Local Mandates, which has the power to invalidate legislation it considers an “unfunded mandate,” denied a challenge to the new law from the New Jersey Association of Counties (NJAC).  sealofnewjerseystateseal

Pretrial justice improvements like those in New Jersey will almost always encounter resistance: arguments about public safety, costs, constitutionality and, ironically, issues of fairness. Almost all of these objections can probably be traced back to the for-profit bail bonding industry lobbyists’ playbook.

New Jersey’s successful rebuttal reminds us that steadfast arguments based in reason and evidence—forcefully articulated by a broad coalition—can win the day. (more…)

The new year affords us an opportunity to look back and ahead, to reflect and imagine. In 2017, PJI’s Board of Directors will welcome a new board chair—Chris Rodgers, a county commissioner from Douglas County, Nebraska. So, we asked outgoing chair Gary Raney and outgoing vice chair Cliff Keenan—two pretrial champions who have given invaluable service to PJI —to look back on their time with us and to think about the future of pretrial justice.


Guest blog by Marie VanNostrand, Ph.D., Justice Project Manager, Luminosity

Several years ago I coined the term ‘resource-based vs. risk-based’ to describe the two primary systems of pretrial release in our country. One system relies on a defendant’s financial resources to determine if they are released or detained pretrial; the other relies on that defendant’s risk of failing to appear in court and the danger they pose to the community.   2016_12_7_marie-vannostrand_lg_sq 

Remarkably, the volume of evidence against a resource-based system has quietly accumulated for a century or longer. Yet, as the volume of evidence supporting a risk-based system has increased exponentially over the past five years, the concern over the potential for risk assessments to perpetuate racial bias has inexplicably begun to overshadow their benefits and to slow pretrial reform efforts. The concern that risk assessments can perpetuate the existing racial bias in our criminal justice system was raised to the national stage in 2014 by then Attorney General Eric Holder and, although I suspect unintentionally, has become a key argument against pretrial reform. (more…)

Whether you are a long-time PJI newsletter reader who still has hard copies of The Pretrial Reporter, a first-time visitor wondering what pretrial justice is all about or even someone who thinks things are just fine the way they are in our money-based bail system, thank you for caring enough about pretrial justice to take the time to engage with us.

2016_11_23_blogSometimes it seems like our society, nation and world are divided in ways we’re unsure how to bridge. Things seem less civil now than in times gone by. But one way in which we at PJI believe we are all united is in our shared commitment to improving justice. Even if we disagree on what real justice looks like or how to achieve it, at PJI we start with the premise that you want a pretrial justice system that is safe, fair and effective. We start there and keep moving forward, through the good days and the bad. (more…)