Blog Archives

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…)

While most eyes were focused on Tuesday's presidential and congressional races, at least two measures passed at the state level that will help improve pretrial

In New Mexico voters approved a Constitutional Amendment to prohibit the detention of defendants who aren’t deemed dangerous or a flight risk, solely because they are unable to pay money bail. It also allows judges to deny bail when there is clear evidence that a defendant poses unmanageable risks if released while awaiting trial. With this new legal framework established, New Mexico takes a big step toward safer, fairer and more effective pretrial justice.  (more…)

 PJI on the Road

Cherise Fanno Burdeen and Dianne Beer-Maxwell check in from the 2016 IACP Conference in San Diego. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more.

Guest Blog by Larry Schwartztol, Executive Director, Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School

larryThe system of money bail is at a crossroads. It remains a dominant tool for administering the pretrial process around the country—a totally normalized and nearly ubiquitous practice despite obvious concerns when freedom is tied to wealth. Yet the tide appears ready to turn. Media outlets from the New York Times to Last Week Tonight with John Oliver have shined a bright spotlight on the pathologies of money bail. A wave of federal civil rights lawsuits have challenged the operation of money bail around the country, from small jurisdictions in Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri, to San Francisco and Massachusetts. And the U.S. Justice Department has become a forceful voice for reform, through court filings (see here and here) emphasizing core constitutional principles and a recent Dear Colleagues letter that went to every state chief justice and state court administrator in the country.  (more…)

Laura. Yolanda. Tierne. Zeljka. These are the names of four women who paid the ultimate price because of failed money bail systems. And “price” is the right word. Their attackers all had been recently arrested for serious physical abuse against the women, and were in the community after paying money bail for their release. blog-imageThe amount each man paid ranged from $5,000 to $100,000. But no amount would have been enough to protect Laura, Yolanda, Tierne, or Zeljka.

The money bail set in these cases was insufficient not because the men were wealthy or the judges set it too low. It wasn’t enough because money bail does nothing to protect public or individual safety. In fact, in cases of domestic or intimate partner violence, an abuser who has shelled out thousands of dollars for pretrial release may be more set on exacting retribution. (more…)

By Cherise Fanno Burdeen

Zero-Based Thinking (ZBT) is an exercise for businesses and organizations looking to improve part or all of their practices. ZBT starts with a simple question: “if I could do it over again, from the beginning, what would I do differently?” By leading “back to zero”—that point where the practices in question began— CFB New 2016 webZBT can be an effective tool for escaping conventional thinking and re-imagining one’s work afresh.

Were I to go “back to zero” to change one fundamental thing about pretrial justice in the U.S. I would, without hesitation, get rid of using money as a condition for pretrial release. Nearly every aspect of today’s pretrial challenges can be traced to money bail: (more…)