New PJI Report Answers Questions About Pretrial Assessment


For Immediate Release: October 4, 2017

Contact: Fiona Druge,, (646) 755-6126


Reframes "Risk Assessment" as Evidence-Based Pretrial Assessment to More Accurately Reflect the Role and Value of These Tools in Producing Pretrial Success

Washington, DC—The Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) has released today a new report titled Questions about Pretrial Assessment. As the title indicates, the report seeks to eliminate confusion and resolve common misconceptions about objective, actuarial assessment tools that help courts make better release and supervision decisions for people charged with committing a crime. In the process, the report also introduces a new, more accurate way of speaking and thinking about pretrial decision making tools and outcomes.

“Despite the controversy associated with the concept of ‘risk assessment,’ evidence from states like New Jersey show that the use of actuarial tools leads to a significant improvement over money bail practices used almost everywhere else. The language we use to talk about the system needs to be clear, whether you are a traditional system stakeholder or a community member who’s never come into contact with the system— because everyone has a stake in improving our country’s justice systems. Referring to these tools as ‘evidence-based pretrial assessments’ more accurately conveys what these tools do and their potential to improve the ineffective status quo—including by reducing the high incidence of racial bias and unnecessary detention in most local systems today. Similarly, reframing case outcomes in terms of pretrial success rather than risk of failure subtly, yet profoundly, highlights the fact that most people who are arrested will show up in court and not get arrested on new charges if they are allowed to go home before their trial,” said Cherise Fanno Burdeen, PJI’s CEO.

Evidence-based pretrial assessments use objective actuarial tools as part of a pretrial system that also includes due process and continues to place ultimate decisionmaking authority with the courts. These tools, which are based on statistical analysis of past cases, show that the likely outcome for most arrested people is pretrial success—since past cases reveal that most people released before trial show up for all court appearances and do not get arrested on new charges during the pretrial period.

New Jersey:

In January 2017 the state of New Jersey changed its pretrial system by implementing an objective, evidence-based pretrial assessment tool to inform court decisions. The first seven months of the new law show the state’s jail population down 20% since the first of the year and 36% compared to the same time in 2015, with only nine money bails set from Jan 1 to May 31— all while early data shows violent crime falling across the state.

Facts about pretrial justice in America:

  • Most people in American jails—more than 6 in 10—have not yet been to trial; the vast majority are there because they can’t afford cash bail.
  • More than 80% of criminal defendants qualify for indigent defense based on poverty.
  • Even three days in jail can result in loss of wages, jobs, housing, and family connections, leaving some defendants 40% more likely to commit future crime.
  • Nearly half of high-risk defendants exploit the money bail system and use bail bondsmen to get out.
  • The tools exist to replace the outdated money bail system with a risk-based system that is safe, fair, and effective, and many jurisdictions have demonstrated it is possible.

The Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) is a national organization working to advance safe, fair, and effective pretrial justice that honors and protects all people. To learn more about PJI or their 3DaysCount campaign, which will support commonsense solutions to longstanding pretrial justice challenges in 20 states, visit

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