Department of Justice Announces Recipients of New “Smart” Grant to Reform Pretrial Justice Practices


The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Pretrial Justice Institute head program focused on working with local justice stakeholders and communities to reduce inequities in the front-end of the justice system


SPDI_BJA_PJI_webWashington, D.C., September 29, 2014 Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) praised the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance’s (BJA) announcement today naming the City and County of Denver, Colorado; Yakima County, Washington; and the State of Delaware as the recipients of the Justice Department’s first Smart Pretrial Demonstration Initiative grants aimed at creating more fair and effective local pretrial justice practices. Denver, Yakima and Delaware are inaugural sites to receive funding for this innovative grant program designed to accomplish pretrial bail reform, a goal originally articulated by Robert F. Kennedy when he was the United States Attorney General 50 years ago.

The Smart Pretrial Demonstration Initiative continues the Department of Justice’s commitment to pretrial reform, expressed by Attorney General Eric Holder at the 2011 National Symposium on Pretrial Justice where he noted that the existing pretrial detention system costs American taxpayers more than $9 billion per year. He also stated that, “by competently assessing risk of release, weighing community safety alongside relevant court considerations, and engaging with pretrial service providers – in private agencies, as well as in courts, probation departments, and sheriff’s offices – we can design reforms to make the current system more equitable, while balancing the concerns of judges, prosecutors, defendants, and advocacy organizations.”

The competitive Smart Pretrial grants from the Justice Department’s BJA offer data and tools to the selected jurisdictions to identify the inefficiencies present in their current pretrial systems and explore opportunities to replace them with policies that prioritize pretrial risk assessments and risk-based supervision for pretrial release. The grants are an initial award of up to $100,000 per year for two years and a potential third year based on successful performance.

“Today’s announcement is not only a great opportunity for Denver, Yakima, and Delaware but also an important advance in making pretrial policies more equitable across the U.S,” said Cherise Fanno Burdeen, PJI’s Executive Director. “We owe it to everyone to make sure that the best information and tools are used to determine who should be held in jail and who should be released before trial.”

The program will test the cost savings and public safety enhancements that can be achieved by improving pretrial policies and practices. Specifically, the program will evaluate the impact of moving to a pretrial justice system that relies on risk assessment to inform pretrial release decision-making and demonstrate how risk management strategies can improve pretrial outcomes. These improvements are expected to increase the efficiency of the justice system, while being more fair and just to defendants.

“The three awardees are taking an important step in moving from a solely offense-based pretrial system to one that is risk-based and that, in the process, makes the community safer,” said Kim Ball, Senior Policy Advisor at the Bureau of Justice Assistance. “This approach to pretrial decision-making will also be more cost-effective for the taxpayers of Denver, Yakima and Delaware. We are excited to work with these sites to improve pretrial justice.”

The Justice Department’s announcement of the Smart Pretrial Demonstration Initiative comes 50 years after Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy spoke of “new techniques for releasing accused persons prior to trial, without hampering law enforcement, without increasing crime, and without prompting defendants to flee,” when addressing the first National Conference on Bail and Criminal Justice.

Meanwhile, in the past several years, a new wave of pretrial justice stakeholders, including law enforcement, State Supreme Court Justices and numerous state legislatures, have advocated for the implementation of risk-based pretrial justice systems to ensure that criminals who pose the most serious dangers to communities are properly identified and supervised if released.

The Smart Pretrial Demonstration Initiative will further assist local jurisdictions in reforming their pretrial practices.


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