Blog Archives

The Fourth of July—Independence Day—reminds us that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are supposed to be “inalienable” rights that cannot be taken away. We know, however, that liberty is a right that can be taken away. After all, the US has more than 2.3 million people currently incarcerated in prisons, jails, and detention facilities. So, liberty suddenly seems a lot more “alienable.” 

wonder womanMost of us accept that individuals convicted of serious offenses may be deprived of their liberty as punishment (though how much we incarcerate is the subject of ongoing debate). But what about people who have only been accused of crimes? When is it permissible to deprive unconvicted people of their Constitutional right to liberty?

In 1987 the US Supreme Court examined that very question and ruled that it is allowable—albeit with strict due process and oversight—to detain unconvicted people who demonstrate an unmanageable risk to public safety. (more…)

By Spike Bradford, editor-in-chief

Last Sunday was Father’s Day; when children and fathers around the country take time to cherish the special bond that men can have with theirshutterstock_107282414 kids. But children of incarcerated fathers aren’t able to celebrate the way they should—with hugs and ballgames.

It is a tragedy when a father is convicted of a crime and incarcerated, leaving a child or children without a dad for months or years. This moving video of digital “love letters” from kids to their imprisoned fathers is evidence enough that while these men are paying for their crimes, their children are paying as well.

It is perhaps even more tragic when fathers who are legally innocent are unnecessarily incarcerated. But we know, of the nearly 500,000 unconvicted people currently in US jails, a large percentage are fathers. (more…)

By Cherise Fanno Burdeen, executive director, Pretrial Justice Institute

This was a big week in PJI-land. On June 2nd, we announced the first of the 3DaysCount™ sites!

Bikers patchGuam is an unincorporated island territory of the United States, located in the South Pacific with a population of 161,785 (roughly the same as Fort Lauderdale, FL) and average daily temperature of 81.4 degrees. To reach Guam from Los Angeles—the closest point in the continental U.S.—takes almost a full twenty-four hours of travel, stopping in Hawaii or Tokyo. It has a unique culture, blending Chamorro traditions and urban life, and might seem like an island paradise for those of us on the “mainland.”

However, when it comes to pretrial justice, Guam is not much different than most other jurisdictions in the U.S. Arrested people are subject to broad discretionary bail setting practices and face detention based on their access to money rather than their pretrial risk. The territory faces jail crowding problems, pressure to increase jail and prison capacity, and the mandates of a longstanding federal consent decree related to the provision of healthcare in Guam’s correctional facilities. And like many jurisdictions, they have a desire to find pretrial justice solutions through thoughtful and evidence-based approaches.


Three research reports released earlier this month add substantially to what we know about the harms caused by money bail. Research is crucial to building momentum for reform and countering the still-too-common notion that bail reform addresses “a problem we're not sure exists.”

flow_chartHere is that latest research showing—yet again—that there IS a problem, and it is money bail:

The Heavy Costs of High Bail: Evidence from Judge Randomization, a Columbia Law and Economics Working Paper, describes how assigning money bail to people accused of crime in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh increases the likelihood of conviction by 12% and increases recidivism by 4%. The authors found that the use of money bail is not effective—it “does not seem to increase the probability that a defendant appears at trial,” and actually makes us all less safe. (more…)

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) recently released a report on important research they conducted—with support from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF)—on law enforcement’s use of citations as an alternative to arrest.

IACP_blogThe Pretrial Justice Working Group identified issuing citations in lieu of a custodial arrest as a crucial early decision point in the pretrial process. By reducing the number of people formally booked into local jails, the practice improves both system and officer efficiency. Along with similar strategies to divert individuals accused of low-level and nonviolent offenses from incarceration, it is key to making  pretrial justice safer, fairer, and more effective. Why?

The act of custodial booking creates the pretrial release or detain decision point. (more…)

The Department of Justice has designated April 24-30 as National Reentry Week. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has asked all U.S. Attorneys to host a reentry event, including job fairs, family days, father-daughter dances, and mock interview programs, to bring attention to the circumstances and needs of people who return to society after a period of incarceration.

JailDoorThese are vital events, and the focus on people returning to their communities has been a sustained effort by the Department for nearly two decades now. Reentry programs make a difference. That said, improvements in pretrial justice practices could actually reduce the need for these reentry services. How? By reducing the number of people who go to jail pending trial when that incarceration wasn’t vital to public safety. Let’s restrict entry to better address reentry.

Consider what happens during just a few days of pretrial detention to individuals who could have been safely released. Family relationships are strained. Employment, particularly day-to-day or unstable employment, is put in jeopardy. Access to housing, drug treatment, or other social services may be put at risk. These are exactly the areas where reentry work tries to reestablish connections. It doesn’t take long for lives to fall apart while one is in jail, but it can take a great effort to put them back together. (more…)

It is impossible to know how it feels to be a victim of crime if you have never been one. In addition to the loss of property or bodily harm, the experience may also involve psychological trauma that can linger long after property is replaced or wounds heal.

NCVRW2016This is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and the focus this year is the importance of early intervention in serving victims’ needs. This provides an occasion to reflect upon how, at the pretrial stage of the criminal justice process—the period following arrest but before a case is resolved—systems based on risk address victim needs in ways that money-based systems cannot.

Research and polling have identified crime victims’ most common and pressing needs: to feel safe, to have their voices heard, and to have access to timely and relevant information. (more…)

By Jo-Ann Wallace, President & CEO, National Legal Aid & Defender Association

Embedded within America’s justice system is the promise of due process, a promise broken by pretrial systems that make unnecessary denial of liberty routine. The destabilizing effects on the lives of half a million Americans detained before their trials each year are well-documented, and contribute to the growing consensus that pretrial release is the best option in the absence of public safety concerns. Until we gain access to the proverbial crystal ball, we can’t be absolutely certain that someone will not be arrested again after being released, or if they will attend their trial. Risk assessment tools provide an empirical foundation to help inform release decisions. They represent a significant breakthrough in evidence-based practices with substantial potential to reduce the social harm of unnecessary pretrial detention.

WallaceThere is understandable caution within the public defense community about the growing reliance on risk assessments – a caution not easily understood by policymakers who are impressed both by their release results and by their relatively straightforward implementation. Both perspectives are valid. The mounting research demonstrating lower detention rates when risk assessment tools are utilized cannot be ignored. At the same time, the scrutiny of skeptical defenders is a critical safeguard against improper use and can be a driving force for future improvements in their design. (more…)

By Leah Garabedian, Defender Counsel, The National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA)

3DaysCount is a critically important campaign that stands to change the lives of millions of Americans. With nearly 12 million jail admissions each year and nearly half a million unconvicted people behind bars on any given day, the reach of even short periods of detention is immense. The destabilizing effect of hours—let alone days—in jail is horrific to our communities, our economy and, most importantly, to our families. 

LeahAs a public defender, I spent countless hours in holding cells interviewing clients prior their first appearance before a judge after an arrest. Monday morning interviews were the most painful to experience—people arrested on Fridays who had spent days in jail. They were scared. Anxious. Many times they were mentally ill or suffering from substance use issues or developmental disabilities. Research shows that anywhere between 20 and 80 percent of jail inmates in the U.S. suffer from mental illness and that at least half of incarcerated people have a clinical substance addiction. (more…)

Important and unprecedented legislation was introduced last week that represents a watershed moment in pretrial justice. The “No More Money Bail Act of 2016”, sponsored by Congressman Ted W. Lieu of California, portrays a growing awareness at the federal level of the inherent flaws in criminal justice systems that rely on money bail as a condition of pretrial release. Congressman Lieu’s bill echoes the sentiment of a Statement of Interest filed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2015 calling the use of money bail unconstitutional and bad public policy.

A BillThe bill specifies two conditions. First, it would prohibit the use of money bail in the federal pretrial justice system. This would be a welcome move: a benefit to accused individuals, families, communities and victims.While the federal system already developed and validated a pretrial risk assessment instrument and has options for supervised release pending trial, there is great variation across federal districts in its application. The “No More Money Bail Act” will increase the use of legal and evidence-based pretrial practices in federal courts across the nation and ensure equal protection under the law. (more…)