Communications and Community Engagement Toolkit

Change can start with a conversation, whether it is with a colleague, a client or an elected official.

This publication is intended to empower readers to become part of the conversation around pretrial justice in the United States. It is an update to our previous work supporting communications across a variety of mediums at the national, state and local level. In this edition, we have refined our language and messaging following 2018 public opinion and messaging research conducted by Lake Research Partners, independently analyzed by Charles Koch Institute, and reviewed by FrameWorks Institute. We have also evolved our communication to keep pace with the fast-moving changes in the overall discussion of mass incarceration and its impact on the health and well-being of our country. We are still evolving.

Conversations may take place through social media, at a conference table, or in the pages of a newspaper, but they are all essential to raising awareness and understanding around the injustices that occur in our communities every day. Our polling shows that there are still tremendous opportunities for educating people on how our current pretrial justice systems work, and that the more people know, the more supportive they are of practices that limit unnecessary detention and promote long-term community health and stability. In order to support change, in other words, people need to know what options for change exist.

PJI’s view on pretrial justice reform is anchored by principles, good laws, and tested best practices. As such, we strive to conduct work guided by research-based methodologies in the provision of adult learning, implementation science, and communications and messaging research. Over the years, beloved “reasons” to support bail reform, or comparisons that we found compelling (it’s just the US and the Philippines who have bonding-for-profit!) did not withstand research testing. We keep adapting and we want to help you adapt as well.

 

The nature of media coverage of pretrial issues has changed over the years. It is no longer relegated to an afterthought in the conversation about criminal justice and mass incarceration but recognized as a critical step in changing the system. Media outlets recognize the importance of speaking to people who are directly impacted by pretrial policies; mainstream journalists are exploring racial inequities and questioning pretrial assessments; and, concerns about over conditioning and over supervision are helping discussions go deeper than ever before. Are you ready?

At this stage of pretrial reform, the “third generation,” we want to be sure that our conversations are centered around what the law requires and research supports in a persuasive, meaningful way. The increased attention around replacing financial conditions of release has also continued to incite pushback from the bail bond industry, which has an equally intense desire to control the narrative around pretrial justice. Their tactics include fear, distorting the intent to decarcerate, a false connection to the legal history of bail, and a disingenuous commitment to racial justice by joining those who are raising legitimate questions about bias. We hope this material helps support you in evolving your own communications strategies, creating new partnerships, showing public support for fair and effective justice policies, and addressing deeply-rooted issues in our communities.

     

Cherise Fanno Burdeen,

CEO, Pretrial Justice Institute

 

Messaging

What makes a successful message? In terms of pretrial justice reform, your message should tap into your audience’s existing values, to show that our current system of pretrial justice is impractical and fails to support equality or liberty. Your message should also empower your audience to talk about the problem themselves in an effective way; that is the power of a good justice metaphor. You should also avoid certain words and formats that undermine your message.

 
 

Educating Policymakers

At PJI, one of our core beliefs is that ‘anything is possible out of your relationships with people.’ This cannot be an insincere strategy. It must come from an authentic place of seeking to speak to the best in people, with a commitment to finding the things you both care deeply about. This section will discuss how system actors and community advocates can engage directly with elected officials about pretrial justice. A visit to an elected official should not be a one-time event, but instead viewed as the beginning of a relationship. As someone who is knowledgeable about and committed to pretrial justice, you are offering your representative an opportunity to understand more about the important role of this stage of criminal justice. You are also demonstrating that this issue is important to your community.

Think of your interaction in three phases: preparation, the meeting itself, and follow-up.

 
 
 

Media

This section is intended for individuals and groups working to improve pretrial justice in the United States who interact, or would like to interact, with the media. Working with the media—print, digital, broadcast, or radio—is an important way to get your message across to pretrial justice system actors and the general public.

 
 
 

Policies, Facts & Figures

Most criminal cases in the United States never go to trial, making the practices and procedures in the pretrial justice phase extremely critical to the outcome of the case. Get to know the legal obligations of pretrial justice, essential facts and figures, and major pretrial issues.

PRETRIAL IN BRIEF copy
Facts & Figures copy
 
 

If only facts and research mattered, then we probably would not still be working to end the use of money bail to obtain pretrial release. But as the Opportunity Agenda , a social justice communications lab, notes, “Leading with facts and figures can reinforce an idea, but it doesn’t do much to persuade, particularly in this age of ‘fake news’. Leading with values, on the other hand, activates emotions and opens an audience’s hearts and ears to the message.”

We know from our polling work that across political parties, we share a deeply held commitment to certain values. We treasure equality and liberty. We also want a criminal justice system that promotes public safety and commonsense solutions. These are goals that can bring many people with different viewpoints together around pretrial justice issues.

The Opportunity Agenda (OA) recommends the VPSA structure, whether you are writing an op-ed, social media post, or speech. VPSA stands for Values, Problem, Solution and Action. Under 'An Example of Values-Based Message' button, you can see how pretrial justice can be presented in the VPSA framework.

Lead with VALUES. Leading with VALUES creates broad points of agreement and shared goals that will resonate with nearly any audience.

It’s common sense that our justice system should focus on public safety. But as a matter of fact, many people are locked up before trial not because they pose a threat to the community, but because they do not have enough money to bond out.

Next, describe the PROBLEM, how it threatens shared values, and create a sense of urgency. You can find descriptions of the problems in pretrial justice here on a national scope; you may find additional pretrial data on your specific county here. Note the use of the metaphor of the justice gears.

Our current justice system is like a bicycle operating in the wrong gear; it expends too much effort on cases that could be handled in a lower ‘gear,’ without arrest or jail. In order to do that, our system needs to change.

Offer a SOLUTION that gives audiences a sense of hope and motivation. The best solutions are connected directly to the problem offered and make clear where the responsibility for change lies.

Prosecutors have the power to help change this inequitable system. In some jurisdictions, the district attorney, the elected official in charge of prosecuting criminal offenses, is refusing to seek money bail for certain types of cases. Different situations require different resources, just like bikes need the right gear for the terrain. Prosecutors can help to make sure that the right “gear” is applied to the situation by diverting people with long-term needs, such as mental illness and substance use, away from jail.

Assign an ACTION gives the audience a concrete next step that they can picture themselves doing and creates a feeling of agency.

District attorneys are accountable to the public. Many candidates for district attorney are adding pretrial reform to their platforms. Attend a town hall or debate and ask questions. Then vote and encourage your neighbors to do the same.

(Used with permission from OA; OA also has an interactive message building tool that can be found here.)

PJI has worked with experts to develop and hone messages that make a powerful and lasting impact on broad audiences. FrameWorks Institute, which uses social science research and communications strategies to drive social change, tells us that the metaphors of the justice maze and justice gears work because they allow the audience to grasp the problem and solution. Tapping into your audience’s values, in the meantime, motivates them to act. For more information on creating persuasive, values-based messages, click here .

There are some words we use so often that we don’t consider their unconscious effect on our listeners. At PJI, word choice has become part an intentional way to slow down our thinking, question our assumptions, and interrupt our own biases. Consider the following four words:

Risk:

The word “risk” is commonly used in discussions of criminal justice matters, but it should be used rarely and advisedly in the context of pretrial justice—the law says we are only to look at likelihood to appear in court without a new arrest during the pretrial phase (or “risk” of failure to do so). And, because most arrested people, in fact, are more likely than not to return to court and not to be arrested on new charges during the pretrial period, at PJI we talked about why we used this word and what it communicates. We spent time trying to talk and write without it. We noticed we could communicate without it and talk about likelihood of success without missing the word at all. We talk this way now:

Most people have a very high likelihood of appearing in court and remaining arrest-free. In most jurisdictions with pretrial assessment tools, even the small number of individuals assessed as least likely to succeed do so half the time. These distinctions are important, as they identify the comparatively small group of people who might benefit from pretrial release conditions designed to enhance their chances of success.

Talking from the standpoint of success also aligns with the legal framework that the default decision should be pretrial release (or possibly not even a booking, but a citation) and not detention.

Defendants:

From our point of view, referring to people as “defendants” (while legally accurate) is also unnecessary. Though it does not expressly assign guilt, the word carries more than a whiff of culpability and so is best avoided; after all, the person in question has not been convicted of anything. We use ‘person first’ language, to always emphasize the point that people’s lives are involved. We use “person,” "person who has been arrested," "person who has been accused," “person with behavioral health needs,” or the person’s name as often as we can—words that are free of implication. And we feel “person” is more humanizing than “individual,” so we try to avoid that word as well.

FTA:

Years ago, we flipped the language here from talking about “failure to appear” to “court appearance,” as we described people’s likelihood to appear in court. We did this because the vast majority of people do appear in court, either when they are supposed to or shortly after missing a court date. Nearly no one “willfully” flees justice, given we rarely arrest people who have the means to do so. When you lead with describing a rare event, you create an illogical sense of concern in the listener.

New Criminal Activity:

This is a very tricky concept and one you should give great pause to when speaking. Again, years ago we flipped the language to talk about people “without a new arrest/charge” instead of speaking about someone “committing another crime” while awaiting trial. To say someone has committed a new/another crime degrades the presumption of innocence of the person facing the original charge. Also, given what we know about police deployment, discretion, and rates of behaviors like drug use (same between whites and blacks), we have serious concerns that African Americans and Latinx are disproportionately affected by policing methods.

It’s a tempting format, but research shows that the myth vs. fact structure actually reinforces the myth, rather than dispels it, according to the FrameWorks Institute. Multiple studies have demonstrated this finding. For example, a study conducted by the University of Michigan found that when people were presented with a myth vs. fact sheet on flu shots from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a few days later, up to 40% of the group remembered the myth as fact. Worse still, as a result of the sheet, many people now attributed the source of the myth to the highly-respected CDC.

A better way to handle the issue is to start with your framework. Talk about your values - we want a justice system that respects liberty and employs commonsense solutions - and then lay out the problem as you see it. For more information on persuasive, values-based messaging, click here. Or use one of the metaphors that has been shown to help audiences comprehend the problems with our current bail system.

Lead with VALUES. Leading with VALUES creates broad points of agreement and shared goals that will resonate with nearly any audience.

It’s common sense that our justice system should focus on public safety. But as a matter of fact, many people are locked up before trial not because they pose a threat to the community, but because they do not have enough money to bond out.

Next, describe the PROBLEM, how it threatens shared values, and create a sense of urgency. You can find descriptions of the problems in pretrial justice here on a national scope; you may find additional pretrial data on your specific county here. Note the use of the metaphor of the justice gears.

Our current justice system is like a bicycle operating in the wrong gear; it expends too much effort on cases that could be handled in a lower ‘gear,’ without arrest or jail. In order to do that, our system needs to change.

Offer a SOLUTION that gives audiences a sense of hope and motivation. The best solutions are connected directly to the problem offered and make clear where the responsibility for change lies.

Prosecutors have the power to help change this inequitable system. In some jurisdictions, the district attorney, the elected official in charge of prosecuting criminal offenses, is refusing to seek money bail for certain types of cases. Different situations require different resources, just like bikes need the right gear for the terrain. Prosecutors can help to make sure that the right “gear” is applied to the situation by diverting people with long-term needs, such as mental illness and substance use, away from jail.

Assign an ACTION gives the audience a concrete next step that they can picture themselves doing and creates a feeling of agency.

District attorneys are accountable to the public. Many candidates for district attorney are adding pretrial reform to their platforms. Attend a town hall or debate and ask questions. Then vote and encourage your neighbors to do the same.

(Used with permission from OA; OA also has an interactive message building tool that can be found here.)

PJI has worked with experts to develop and hone messages that make a powerful and lasting impact on broad audiences. FrameWorks Institute, which uses social science research and communications strategies to drive social change, tells us that the metaphors of the justice maze and justice gears work because they allow the audience to grasp the problem and solution. Tapping into your audience’s values, in the meantime, motivates them to act. For more information on creating persuasive, values-based messages, click here .

There are some words we use so often that we don’t consider their unconscious effect on our listeners. At PJI, word choice has become part an intentional way to slow down our thinking, question our assumptions, and interrupt our own biases. Consider the following four words:

Risk:

The word “risk” is commonly used in discussions of criminal justice matters, but it should be used rarely and advisedly in the context of pretrial justice—the law says we are only to look at likelihood to appear in court without a new arrest during the pretrial phase (or “risk” of failure to do so). And, because most arrested people, in fact, are more likely than not to return to court and not to be arrested on new charges during the pretrial period, at PJI we talked about why we used this word and what it communicates. We spent time trying to talk and write without it. We noticed we could communicate without it and talk about likelihood of success without missing the word at all. We talk this way now:

Most people have a very high likelihood of appearing in court and remaining arrest-free. In most jurisdictions with pretrial assessment tools, even the small number of individuals assessed as least likely to succeed do so half the time. These distinctions are important, as they identify the comparatively small group of people who might benefit from pretrial release conditions designed to enhance their chances of success.

Talking from the standpoint of success also aligns with the legal framework that the default decision should be pretrial release (or possibly not even a booking, but a citation) and not detention.

Defendants:

From our point of view, referring to people as “defendants” (while legally accurate) is also unnecessary. Though it does not expressly assign guilt, the word carries more than a whiff of culpability and so is best avoided; after all, the person in question has not been convicted of anything. We use ‘person first’ language, to always emphasize the point that people’s lives are involved. We use “person,” "person who has been arrested," "person who has been accused," “person with behavioral health needs,” or the person’s name as often as we can—words that are free of implication. And we feel “person” is more humanizing than “individual,” so we try to avoid that word as well.

FTA:

Years ago, we flipped the language here from talking about “failure to appear” to “court appearance,” as we described people’s likelihood to appear in court. We did this because the vast majority of people do appear in court, either when they are supposed to or shortly after missing a court date. Nearly no one “willfully” flees justice, given we rarely arrest people who have the means to do so. When you lead with describing a rare event, you create an illogical sense of concern in the listener.

New Criminal Activity:

This is a very tricky concept and one you should give great pause to when speaking. Again, years ago we flipped the language to talk about people “without a new arrest/charge” instead of speaking about someone “committing another crime” while awaiting trial. To say someone has committed a new/another crime degrades the presumption of innocence of the person facing the original charge. Also, given what we know about police deployment, discretion, and rates of behaviors like drug use (same between whites and blacks), we have serious concerns that African Americans and Latinx are disproportionately affected by policing methods.

If only facts and research mattered, then we probably would not still be working to end the use of money bail to obtain pretrial release. But as the Opportunity Agenda , a social justice communications lab, notes, “Leading with facts and figures can reinforce an idea, but it doesn’t do much to persuade, particularly in this age of ‘fake news’. Leading with values, on the other hand, activates emotions and opens an audience’s hearts and ears to the message.”

We know from our polling work that across political parties, we share a deeply held commitment to certain values. We treasure equality and liberty. We also want a criminal justice system that promotes public safety and commonsense solutions. These are goals that can bring many people with different viewpoints together around pretrial justice issues.

The Opportunity Agenda (OA) recommends the VPSA structure, whether you are writing an op-ed, social media post, or speech. VPSA stands for Values, Problem, Solution and Action. Under 'An Example of Values-Based Message' button, you can see how pretrial justice can be presented in the VPSA framework.

Whether you are writing an op-ed or meeting with an elected official, you will need to succinctly make your point. To do this, you can structure your language with the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF), an acronym and principle credited to military intelligence writing, meaning that you put the most vital information and conclusion at the beginning. While academic writing teaches us to lay out all the evidence before arriving at the conclusion, BLUF allows the audience to immediately grasp what you are talking about.

Here’s an example of how a BLUF, using the metaphor of the justice maze, plus the value of pragmatism, can be particularly effective in shifting views around racial disparities in the justice system when combined with specific examples:

America's criminal justice system is a maze; once you get in, it's hard to get out. And while an effective approach to criminal justice helps all Americans, our current system is not doing this. Instead, the system is devastating many African American families and communities. African Americans are disproportionately penalized by pretrial detention decisions that are based on wealth instead of safety. They are more likely to be required to pay money to be released from jail before trial, and in higher amounts.

Our system is not working. But by identifying practical things we can do to address these issues, we can make important changes. A new national poll from the Pretrial Justice Institute and the National Urban League Washington Bureau shows what changes African American registered voters want at the front door--at the pretrial stage--of the criminal justice system.

If someone read only those two initial paragraphs, they would immediately understand the thesis of the report: The criminal justice system is not effective, in part because it treats African Americans unfairly. African American voters want changes to the system.

Even if you are not using the BLUF technique, you should always bear in mind your SOCO, or Single Overriding Communications Objective. This powerful communications principle has been used to great effect from everyone from politicians to volunteer organizers to public health officials. What single message or action do you want your audience to remember after reading your report or hearing from you? You might want your audience to advocate for more ways to divert people away from the justice system, or to remember that many people are locked up before trial because they cannot afford bond, not because they are dangerous. Here is an example from the background report on the prevalence of people with mental illness in criminal justice from the Treatment Advocacy Center:

Serious mental illness has become so prevalent in the US corrections system that jails and prisons are now commonly called “the new asylums.” In point of fact, the Los Angeles County Jail, Chicago’s Cook County Jail, or the New York’s Riker’s Island Jail Complex each hold more mentally ill inmates than any remaining psychiatric hospital in the United States.

In 44 states, a jail or prison holds more mentally ill individuals than the largest remaining state psychiatric hospital; in every county in the United States with both a county jail and a county psychiatric facility, more seriously mentally ill individuals are incarcerated than hospitalized. A 2017 report from the Bureau of Justice Assistance found that 1 in 4 people in jails reported experiences within the previous 30 days that met the threshold for serious psychological distress.

The SOCO here is that many people with mental health issues wind up in prisons and jails due to a lack of appropriate resources. The term ‘new asylums’ and shocking statistics reinforce that idea. Identify your SOCO, and then make sure your language supports it. Here is a short worksheet to help you focus on and articulate your SOCO.

It’s a tempting format, but research shows that the myth vs. fact structure actually reinforces the myth, rather than dispels it, according to the FrameWorks Institute. Multiple studies have demonstrated this finding. For example, a study conducted by the University of Michigan found that when people were presented with a myth vs. fact sheet on flu shots from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a few days later, up to 40% of the group remembered the myth as fact. Worse still, as a result of the sheet, many people now attributed the source of the myth to the highly-respected CDC.

A better way to handle the issue is to start with your framework. Talk about your values - we want a justice system that respects liberty and employs commonsense solutions - and then lay out the problem as you see it. For more information on persuasive, values-based messaging, click here. Or use one of the metaphors that has been shown to help audiences comprehend the problems with our current bail system.

Whether you are writing an op-ed or meeting with an elected official, you will need to succinctly make your point. To do this, you can structure your language with the Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF), an acronym and principle credited to military intelligence writing, meaning that you put the most vital information and conclusion at the beginning. While academic writing teaches us to lay out all the evidence before arriving at the conclusion, BLUF allows the audience to immediately grasp what you are talking about.

Here’s an example of how a BLUF, using the metaphor of the justice maze, plus the value of pragmatism, can be particularly effective in shifting views around racial disparities in the justice system when combined with specific examples:

America's criminal justice system is a maze; once you get in, it's hard to get out. And while an effective approach to criminal justice helps all Americans, our current system is not doing this. Instead, the system is devastating many African American families and communities. African Americans are disproportionately penalized by pretrial detention decisions that are based on wealth instead of safety. They are more likely to be required to pay money to be released from jail before trial, and in higher amounts.

Our system is not working. But by identifying practical things we can do to address these issues, we can make important changes. A new national poll from the Pretrial Justice Institute and the National Urban League Washington Bureau shows what changes African American registered voters want at the front door--at the pretrial stage--of the criminal justice system.

If someone read only those two initial paragraphs, they would immediately understand the thesis of the report: The criminal justice system is not effective, in part because it treats African Americans unfairly. African American voters want changes to the system.

Lead with VALUES. Leading with VALUES creates broad points of agreement and shared goals that will resonate with nearly any audience.

It’s common sense that our justice system should focus on public safety. But as a matter of fact, many people are locked up before trial not because they pose a threat to the community, but because they do not have enough money to bond out.

Next, describe the PROBLEM, how it threatens shared values, and create a sense of urgency. You can find descriptions of the problems in pretrial justice here on a national scope; you may find additional pretrial data on your specific county here. Note the use of the metaphor of the justice gears.

Our current justice system is like a bicycle operating in the wrong gear; it expends too much effort on cases that could be handled in a lower ‘gear,’ without arrest or jail. In order to do that, our system needs to change.

Offer a SOLUTION that gives audiences a sense of hope and motivation. The best solutions are connected directly to the problem offered and make clear where the responsibility for change lies.

Prosecutors have the power to help change this inequitable system. In some jurisdictions, the district attorney, the elected official in charge of prosecuting criminal offenses, is refusing to seek money bail for certain types of cases. Different situations require different resources, just like bikes need the right gear for the terrain. Prosecutors can help to make sure that the right “gear” is applied to the situation by diverting people with long-term needs, such as mental illness and substance use, away from jail.

Assign an ACTION gives the audience a concrete next step that they can picture themselves doing and creates a feeling of agency.

District attorneys are accountable to the public. Many candidates for district attorney are adding pretrial reform to their platforms. Attend a town hall or debate and ask questions. Then vote and encourage your neighbors to do the same.

(Used with permission from OA; OA also has an interactive message building tool that can be found here.)

PJI has worked with experts to develop and hone messages that make a powerful and lasting impact on broad audiences. FrameWorks Institute, which uses social science research and communications strategies to drive social change, tells us that the metaphors of the justice maze and justice gears work because they allow the audience to grasp the problem and solution. Tapping into your audience’s values, in the meantime, motivates them to act. For more information on creating persuasive, values-based messages, click here .

Lead with VALUES. Leading with VALUES creates broad points of agreement and shared goals that will resonate with nearly any audience.

It’s common sense that our justice system should focus on public safety. But as a matter of fact, many people are locked up before trial not because they pose a threat to the community, but because they do not have enough money to bond out.

Next, describe the PROBLEM, how it threatens shared values, and create a sense of urgency. You can find descriptions of the problems in pretrial justice here on a national scope; you may find additional pretrial data on your specific county here. Note the use of the metaphor. of the justice gears.

Our current justice system is like a bicycle operating in the wrong gear; it expends too much effort on cases that could be handled in a lower ‘gear,’ without arrest or jail. In order to do that, our system needs to change.

Offer a SOLUTION that gives audiences a sense of hope and motivation. The best solutions are connected directly to the problem offered and make clear where the responsibility for change lies.

Prosecutors have the power to help change this inequitable system. In some jurisdictions, the district attorney, the elected official in charge of prosecuting criminal offenses, is refusing to seek money bail for certain types of cases. Different situations require different resources, just like bikes need the right gear for the terrain. Prosecutors can help to make sure that the right “gear” is applied to the situation by diverting people with long-term needs, such as mental illness and substance use, away from jail.

Assign an ACTION gives the audience a concrete next step that they can picture themselves doing and creates a feeling of agency.

District attorneys are accountable to the public. Many candidates for district attorney are adding pretrial reform to their platforms. Attend a town hall or debate and ask questions. Then vote and encourage your neighbors to do the same.

(Used with permission from OA; OA also has an interactive message building tool that can be found here.)

Prior to meeting with elected officials, clarify your objectives for the interaction, and the role that you are playing.  If you are meeting in a professional capacity representing another branch of government, you will approach the meeting differently than if you attending as a concerned constituent.  Are you providing information to increase awareness of an issue? Is there an event coming up that you’d like to request his/her presence at? Is there a piece of legislation you’d like them to support or oppose?  It may be that you wish to express concern about a bill or criminal justice funding. You may want the official to understand the impact of current pretrial practices in your community or want to bring a particular affected individual to his/her attention. You do not need to wait until a bill on pretrial justice has been introduced to visit; in fact, in many cases, your work can be more effective without the pressure of a bill. Your visit can be for educational purposes. Second, what do you want your official to do with that information? For example, you could request him/her write an op-ed, provide campaign support via social media, create a task force, include pretrial reform in his/her legislative agenda, or host a community meeting.

Depending on the issue and your role, you may decide to visit your mayor, sheriff, district attorney, county commissioner, or a state-level representative. If you are not sure who your representatives are, you can use these websites to find out:

Common Cause

Open States

USA.gov

You may be scheduled to visit a staff member instead of the official. This can be a very good thing. Staff members often have more time and attention to devote to an issue and meet with constituents. Elected officials rely on their staff to help them develop informed opinions and policies.

Before you meet with your official or staff member, you should conduct some background research. Look at his or her website to see what they have worked on recently and see if any of their current issues connect with pretrial justice. This may include housing, employment, mental health or substance use, just to name a few. You should know what committees they are assigned to and their voting record on other related issues; the websites VoteSmart.org and Politifact.com have useful information for elected officials, such as biographies, votes, positions and funding. It is helpful to have a touchpoint other than the elected/constituent relationship. Perhaps you went to the same college or share an outside interest. Having this information shows that you have done your homework and enhances the relationship that you want to develop.

It is helpful to meet with elected officials as a group representing diverse viewpoints. This shows the level of interest in pretrial justice in the criminal justice system or in the broader community, and offers a wider breadth of knowledge. Depending on the specific issue, you may want to include one or more of the following who support and reinforce your position:

• Persons who have been directly affected by the pretrial justice system

• Religious organizations

• Business owners

• System actors, including professional organizations or representatives from law enforcement, prosecutors, jails, defense attorneys, or the courts

• Victims organizations

• Mental or behavioral health treatment organizations

One person in the delegation should act as the ‘point person,’ to facilitate the meeting. Before you meet with your representative, your group should have a plan of what each person will say. Your group should also be sensitive to time constraints; members of the group should arrive early and be mindful of the ending time of the meeting. Meetings may very well start late and run short. If they wish, members can bring brief ‘leave-behinds,’ such as their organization’s talking points on pretrial justice or policy statements pretrial justice. (Many organizations have come out with statements on pretrial justice; see here for a listing.)

Your leave-behind is a short document (one-page, ideally) about your organization’s views on a pretrial issue. It may be a series of talking points, or maybe contain your organization’s position on a pretrial justice issue. Your leave-behind should be written in simple language (avoid jargon), have no more than three major points, and always contain contact information in case there are questions.

Here is an example of a leave-behind that could be used to show support for pretrial reform.

Here is a list of organizations that have come out with positions on pretrial justice. If you have a representative from one of these organizations, you may want to bring this to the official’s attention.

FOLLOW-UP - What to Do Right After the Meeting

Your goal is to develop the relationship. Before the end of the day that you meet with your official or staff person, you and your delegation should:

• Compare notes with everyone in your group to confirm what the elected official committed to do.

• Send a thank you note from the visit. Remind the official of anything he or she may have agreed to do.

• Send any additional materials you may have promised.

• Use social media to thank the member for the visit, being sure to tag them. A photo outside the office or with the member is very effective.

• Follow the official on social media.

• Add the official or staff to your mailing lists. Send reports/new items from your organization to their offices.

The point person should coordinate the agenda, keeping in mind the following guidelines:

• State the purpose of the visit concisely.

• Know your bill number if you’re discussing specific legislation.

• Each member of your delegation should know how much time they have to speak, and what they are planning to cover in their remarks. Do not overwhelm the official with information. Your first meeting may provide a general overview. If possible, personalize your comments and provide local context.

• People who have been directly impacted by the pretrial justice system should be encouraged to tell their personal stories.

• Discuss how the member can be helpful to constituents by supporting/opposing the legislation.

• Listen to concerns from the official or staff. The response won’t always be clear, so listen carefully. What is the person saying about the issue? What questions or concerns do they have that might be answered? Pay attention to the direct and indirect statements of support or opposition.

• Keep the conversation positive and the lines of communication open for the future. Stay away from particularly partisan discussions. Never disagree or argue about an issue.

• If you don’t know the answer to a question your official asks, say you’ll find out and then follow up.

• State your ‘ask’. You will need to calibrate your ask according to your relationship with the member. If it is your first meeting, your ask might be mild, but should still be visible. Perhaps the member could tweet about the issue, or post about the meeting with your organization.

• Open the door to the next visit. Schedule a follow-up and put out your 'leave-behinds.'

• Successful meetings are 90% about:

· the relationship you’re creating;

· the way you empower the staffer;

· the degree to which they trust your perspective; and

· how you say what you’re saying.¹

 

______________________

  1. “What is Advocacy and How to Advocate on Capitol Hill,” Presentation by the National Urban League, October 2018.

Your leave-behind is a short document (one-page, ideally) about your organization’s views on a pretrial issue. It may be a series of talking points, or maybe contain your organization’s position on a pretrial justice issue. Your leave-behind should be written in simple language (avoid jargon), have no more than three major points, and always contain contact information in case there are questions.

Here is an example of a leave-behind that could be used to show support for pretrial reform.

Here is a list of organizations that have come out with positions on pretrial justice. If you have a representative from one of these organizations, you may want to bring this to the official’s attention.

FOLLOW-UP - What to Do Right After the Meeting

Your goal is to develop the relationship. Before the end of the day that you meet with your official or staff person, you and your delegation should:

• Compare notes with everyone in your group to confirm what the elected official committed to do.

• Send a thank you note from the visit. Remind the official of anything he or she may have agreed to do.

• Send any additional materials you may have promised.

• Use social media to thank the member for the visit, being sure to tag them. A photo outside the office or with the member is very effective.

• Follow the official on social media.

• Add the official or staff to your mailing lists. Send reports/new items from your organization to their offices.

You’ve had an initial meeting; what should you do next? Your first meeting was likely quite broad in perspective; a second and third meeting is a good opportunity to get into the details. If you’ve identified a problem, what do you think is the solution?

Look for reasons to keep in touch through email, calls and social media engagement. If new information comes out that you think would be of interest to the member, you can share it. Show that pretrial justice and its related issues are important to the community. Elected officials and staff members must cover a broad range of issues, and it is helpful to you to demonstrate that you are a knowledgeable and trustworthy source of information on pretrial justice. Make sure the official or staff knows who you are.

You should aim to visit your elected officials regularly. They respond better to those who have built relationships. Tweet them and visit their community meetings. Make yourself visible. It goes a long way in agenda setting and advocacy.

An op-ed is an opinion article written by a non-journalist that advocates for a specific point of view or a solution to a problem. In print newspapers, op-eds usually appear on the page opposite the editorial page, hence “op-ed.” Op-ed editors look for timely, newsy articles from credible sources who offer readers information and expert opinion that they might not find anywhere else.

Why Submit an Op-Ed?

Legislators and people involved in the pretrial justice process—judges, prosecutors, public defenders, policymakers, law enforcement officials—read their local newspaper (as well as national papers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today). Of course, “regular people”—members of the court of popular opinion—do too. An op-ed is a place to reach all these people by making a succinct, compelling argument and, when appropriate, a call to action.

When to Submit an Op-Ed

Strike—write—when the iron is hot. Submit your op-ed immediately after a relevant news report appears—for example, when a major piece of legislation is moving through the state legislature or when a person released on money bond commits a high-profile crime. To simplify and streamline the writing process, keep a document handy with key talking points and a boilerplate description of the injustices and dangers of the pretrial and money bond systems. You should also have recommendations for commonsense solutions readily available. That way, you simply need to tailor your op-ed to the “news peg,” or to the particulars of the event or issue in the news.

(Note: Some newspapers limit the number of op-eds they will run from the same writer, but increasingly this is not the case. Don’t be deterred from submitting an op-ed if you’ve already published one in the same news outlet. Also, while newspapers once paid op-ed writers for their contributions, this practice has been discontinued.)

Publication Nuts and Bolts

Exclusivity: Most newspapers require exclusive rights to the op-eds they publish. That is, if The Baltimore Sun accepts your op-ed, do not also submit it for consideration to The Washington Post. This means it’s generally wise to submit an article to one news outlet at a time. If you send the same article to more than one paper, it’s incumbent on you to let the other news outlets know when a paper agrees to publish your op-ed. As for ultimate rights to the op-ed, check with the editor; many papers demand exclusive rights for a set period, after which the rights redound to the writer.

However, many newspapers share material, including op-eds, with national news syndicates, so it’s possible your op-ed will appear in other outlets across the country—which gives you more bounce for the ounce!

Submit a finished product: Editors will consider only completed op-eds; they don’t have the time to discuss an idea for an article. Likewise, don’t call or write to ask if an editor would be interested in an op-ed on pretrial justice. Write the op-ed and send it in.

Word count: Most newspapers require that op-eds be roughly 750 words. Check the news outlet’s website for the required word count or contact the op-ed editor by email if you can’t find the information online, and take the word count seriously. Though op-eds may run on a newspaper’s website, and thus in theory could be any length, the same op-eds also appear in the newspaper’s hard-copy edition, where space is limited. Editors have no time to cut your article to fit. If your op-ed submission is significantly over (or under) the prescribed word count, it’s likely to be rejected. Sometimes an op-ed editor will ask permission to trim your article and run it as a letter to the editor.

Sources: Provide links for all facts mentioned in your op-ed. Hyperlink the pertinent words or phrases and include the URLs in a separate section at the bottom of the op-ed. No footnotes!

Submitting your op-ed: Include the article in the body of an email with a note to the editor above it. Do not send the op-ed as an attachment; newspaper companies worry about viruses corrupting their content management systems and often forbid journalists to open email attachments. Make sure you provide your name, professional affiliation, and contact information in your note to the editor. Most news outlets publish the email address of op-ed contributors in a short, italicized section at the end of the article.

Newsroom directories: Search the website of the news organization you plan to contact for a newsroom directory that contains the names and contact information of staff by department. Also, news websites often provide directions on how to submit op-eds and letters to the editor and some have online submission forms. If you can’t find the editor’s contact information, try calling the news outlet’s main number and ask the operator for the name and email address of the op-ed or opinion editor, or of the editorial page editor. Make sure to confirm the spelling of the editor’s name.

Writing an Op-Ed

• Lead with your message. You have only seconds to grab a reader’s attention.

• Use clear, vivid language—no jargon! Cite specific examples and recommendations.

• Stick to one or two main points. As an expert, you might find this frustrating, since you’re dealing with a complex subject, but readers will grasp your argument better when you focus on just a couple of discrete points.

• Use short sentences and paragraphs—you don’t want long blocks of gray type.

• Acknowledge opponents’ arguments when appropriate or helpful, but don’t worry about representing opposing viewpoints in detail. You’re writing the op-ed to make your argument.

• End with a bang. The last paragraph, or “kicker,” is where you sum up the points you’ve made throughout the piece. Think of driving a nail into a wall with one good, targeted whack.

• Carefully proofread your work and make sure all names are spelled correctly. You, not the editor, are responsible for checking that names, titles, and facts are correct.

Op-Ed Tips

Tips for Aspiring Op-Ed Writers (from The New York Times)

Submit an Op-Ed (from The Washington Post)

How to Write an Op-Ed or Column (from Harvard University’s Kennedy School)

How to Write an Op-Ed Article (from Carleton College)

Writing Op-Eds (from The Writing Cooperative)

Examples of Published Op-Eds

“Reform Maryland’s cash-bail practices” (The Washington Post, Nov. 4, 2016), by Cherise Fanno Burdeen and Marc Schindler

“Bail Reform Begins with the Bench” (The New York Times, Nov. 17, 2016), by Zina Makar

You can work with journalists in several ways: You can submit an op-ed that provides additional information about or insight into a topic that’s been in the news. You can write a letter to the editor in response to a recent article. Or you can send a press release to pitch a news story and offer to serve as an expert source. You can also do all of the above.

Reporters and editors are busier than ever and won’t always take your calls or accept your op-eds or letters, but they are still hungry for news and need expert sources who can provide perspective, background, and data. Don’t be discouraged if you fail to get a “bite” on your first try submitting an op-ed, letter, or press release. The news cycle never stops; there’s always next time. Hone your message, keep key facts at your fingertips, and always be on the alert for “news pegs”—news reports that provide an opening for you to discuss your pretrial justice work and expertise.

Time is always of the essence: Editors want op-eds and letters to the editor that are “pegged”—related—to recent news reports and, in general, that means reports published in the previous 24-48 hours. Delay by even a few days and your news peg might be old news (and last Sunday’s paper suitable for wrapping fish). Be prepared to jump. For example, following the death of a 61-year-old grandmother in jail in Texas, PJI sent out a press release mourning her death and discussing the crisis of people with mental health needs in jail.

For organizations with a public relations team: Let your PR team know when you’ve contacted—or been contacted by—a member of the media and provide the reporter’s name and contact information, as well as a description of the topic or particular angle. Likewise, let your PR team know if you’ve submitted an op-ed or a letter to the editor or would like to—many PR professionals will help you draft op-eds or letters. Be aware that public relations people and journalists often mix like oil and water: Many reporters will not deal with an intermediary whose job it is to “massage” the message. Good PR people know this and will be able to advise you discreetly.

• Reporters are not in the business of promoting your organization. They are in the business of getting news out to the public, including news about pretrial justice and money bond reform. By all means thank reporters for their time and attention, but do not thank them for “helping” your organization.

• Reporters are almost always busy. If you call them, be prepared to state your case concisely. If the reporter can’t talk, ask for his or her email address so you can follow up with a brief message that contains your contact information and a description of what you would like to discuss.

• If a reporter calls you, immediately establish the ground rules of the discussion. If you agree to speak on the record, anything you say can be quoted. If you’d rather not be quoted, ask if you can speak on background. Reporters prefer that sources speak on the record, and news organizations increasingly discourage their reporters from quoting or otherwise using information from anonymous sources.

• When speaking with a reporter, avoid jargon. Use clear language that a general audience will understand. For example, instead of “impacted people” say “people who have been arrested but not convicted of a crime.”

Reporters and their editors love data. If you have statistics to bolster your argument, say so early in the conversation and have the numbers (and the sources of those numbers) ready to email ASAP.

• Don’t be afraid to speak candidly. Reporters appreciate lively quotes and readers do too. Your goal is to get your message across to as many people as possible—you don’t want readers to zone out because the topic seems complex or abstract. Offer specific, vivid examples and provide details that help readers grasp the issue.

• Reporters do not allow sources to review articles before publication. Op-ed editors occasionally will send you the edited version of your piece before publication. Likewise, op-ed editors who turn down a submission will sometimes, but not always, tell you why your op-ed was not accepted. You can ask for feedback, but don’t push it if the editor demurs. Try again next time.

If you think you have been misquoted, or if the reporter makes a significant mistake in a story, you can ask for a correction or clarification. However, if the story is not wrong but simply not what you had in mind, refrain from calling the reporter to complain. (Also, don’t blame reporters for headlines—they generally don’t write them. That said, if the headline really stinks you can drop the reporter a note.)

Organizations issue several kinds of communications to the media. All must be clearly, and flawlessly, written—no typos, misspellings, bad grammar, tortured syntax, or incorrect facts. You want reporters and editors to take you seriously and to trust your information.

Since reporters are bombarded with press advisories and releases, you want yours to stand out. State your case at the top, in a headline and in the first paragraph, and be succinct throughout. Strive to keep your advisory or release to one page.

If you have data, include a few key points. Reporters are after facts and are more likely to get back to you if you can support your argument with hard numbers.

Be sure to include your full name, professional affiliation, title, and contact information.

If you can personalize each release or advisory, do so—but use the reporter’s full name unless you know him or her.

Press Release

A press release, also called a news or media release, is a document sent to journalists to interest them in doing a story on a topic relevant to your organization and its mission. Pick your shots; you don’t want to cram reporters’ inboxes with messages too often—unless, of course, reporters have asked you to keep them up to date regularly about developments in the pretrial justice arena. In general, send a press release only when you have a “news peg,” such as the introduction of legislation or the release of poll results—or when a leader of your organization is available to provide context or background about a topic in the news. See “How to Write a Press Release, With Examples” (from CBS News).

Media Advisory

Shorter than a press release, a media advisory generally is used to invite members of the press to an event with the aim of getting coverage of your organization or of an issue you’re working on. See a sample media advisory (from the National Education Association). Send the advisory roughly a week before the event and then issue a reminder email the day before or the morning of the event.

Backgrounder

A backgrounder accompanies a press advisory or press release to provide more detail. Learn more.

An op-ed is an opinion article written by a non-journalist that advocates for a specific point of view or a solution to a problem. In print newspapers, op-eds usually appear on the page opposite the editorial page, hence “op-ed.” Op-ed editors look for timely, newsy articles from credible sources who offer readers information and expert opinion that they might not find anywhere else.

Why Submit an Op-Ed?

Legislators and people involved in the pretrial justice process—judges, prosecutors, public defenders, policymakers, law enforcement officials—read their local newspaper (as well as national papers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today). Of course, “regular people”—members of the court of popular opinion—do too. An op-ed is a place to reach all these people by making a succinct, compelling argument and, when appropriate, a call to action.

When to Submit an Op-Ed

Strike—write—when the iron is hot. Submit your op-ed immediately after a relevant news report appears—for example, when a major piece of legislation is moving through the state legislature or when a person released on money bond commits a high-profile crime. To simplify and streamline the writing process, keep a document handy with key talking points and a boilerplate description of the injustices and dangers of the pretrial and money bond systems. You should also have recommendations for commonsense solutions readily available. That way, you simply need to tailor your op-ed to the “news peg,” or to the particulars of the event or issue in the news.

(Note: Some newspapers limit the number of op-eds they will run from the same writer, but increasingly this is not the case. Don’t be deterred from submitting an op-ed if you’ve already published one in the same news outlet. Also, while newspapers once paid op-ed writers for their contributions, this practice has been discontinued.)

Publication Nuts and Bolts

Exclusivity: Most newspapers require exclusive rights to the op-eds they publish. That is, if The Baltimore Sun accepts your op-ed, do not also submit it for consideration to The Washington Post. This means it’s generally wise to submit an article to one news outlet at a time. If you send the same article to more than one paper, it’s incumbent on you to let the other news outlets know when a paper agrees to publish your op-ed. As for ultimate rights to the op-ed, check with the editor; many papers demand exclusive rights for a set period, after which the rights redound to the writer.

However, many newspapers share material, including op-eds, with national news syndicates, so it’s possible your op-ed will appear in other outlets across the country—which gives you more bounce for the ounce!

Submit a finished product: Editors will consider only completed op-eds; they don’t have the time to discuss an idea for an article. Likewise, don’t call or write to ask if an editor would be interested in an op-ed on pretrial justice. Write the op-ed and send it in.

Word count: Most newspapers require that op-eds be roughly 750 words. Check the news outlet’s website for the required word count or contact the op-ed editor by email if you can’t find the information online, and take the word count seriously. Though op-eds may run on a newspaper’s website, and thus in theory could be any length, the same op-eds also appear in the newspaper’s hard-copy edition, where space is limited. Editors have no time to cut your article to fit. If your op-ed submission is significantly over (or under) the prescribed word count, it’s likely to be rejected. Sometimes an op-ed editor will ask permission to trim your article and run it as a letter to the editor.

Sources: Provide links for all facts mentioned in your op-ed. Hyperlink the pertinent words or phrases and include the URLs in a separate section at the bottom of the op-ed. No footnotes!

Submitting your op-ed: Include the article in the body of an email with a note to the editor above it. Do not send the op-ed as an attachment; newspaper companies worry about viruses corrupting their content management systems and often forbid journalists to open email attachments. Make sure you provide your name, professional affiliation, and contact information in your note to the editor. Most news outlets publish the email address of op-ed contributors in a short, italicized section at the end of the article.

Newsroom directories: Search the website of the news organization you plan to contact for a newsroom directory that contains the names and contact information of staff by department. Also, news websites often provide directions on how to submit op-eds and letters to the editor and some have online submission forms. If you can’t find the editor’s contact information, try calling the news outlet’s main number and ask the operator for the name and email address of the op-ed or opinion editor, or of the editorial page editor. Make sure to confirm the spelling of the editor’s name.

Writing an Op-Ed

• Lead with your message. You have only seconds to grab a reader’s attention.

• Use clear, vivid language—no jargon! Cite specific examples and recommendations.

• Stick to one or two main points. As an expert, you might find this frustrating, since you’re dealing with a complex subject, but readers will grasp your argument better when you focus on just a couple of discrete points.

• Use short sentences and paragraphs—you don’t want long blocks of gray type.

• Acknowledge opponents’ arguments when appropriate or helpful, but don’t worry about representing opposing viewpoints in detail. You’re writing the op-ed to make your argument.

• End with a bang. The last paragraph, or “kicker,” is where you sum up the points you’ve made throughout the piece. Think of driving a nail into a wall with one good, targeted whack.

• Carefully proofread your work and make sure all names are spelled correctly. You, not the editor, are responsible for checking that names, titles, and facts are correct.

Op-Ed Tips

Tips for Aspiring Op-Ed Writers (from The New York Times)

Submit an Op-Ed (from The Washington Post)

How to Write an Op-Ed or Column (from Harvard University’s Kennedy School)

How to Write an Op-Ed Article (from Carleton College)

Writing Op-Eds (from The Writing Cooperative)

Examples of Published Op-Eds

“Reform Maryland’s cash-bail practices” (The Washington Post, Nov. 4, 2016), by Cherise Fanno Burdeen and Marc Schindler

“Bail Reform Begins with the Bench” (The New York Times, Nov. 17, 2016), by Zina Makar

Like op-eds, letters to the editor should be written and sent ASAP. If you spot a news story or an op-ed that raises your hackles, makes you cheer, or begs for additional information or insight, by all means send a letter! The early bird has a better chance of being published, so don’t delay—send the letter the same day the article appears, before noon if possible.

Also, like op-eds, lead with your message, be concise, and, if appropriate, issue a call to action.

Writing a Letter to the Editor

• Identify the article(s) you are responding to at the beginning of the letter. Cite the headline(s) and date(s).

• Pick your shots—focus on just one or two salient points.

• Keep your letter to 150-200 words.

• Being blunt is fine; being unpleasant is not.

• Send the letter in the body of an email, not as an attachment, and include your full name, address, professional affiliation, and contact information.

• Add a line at the bottom of the letter that says you have submitted the letter only to that particular publication. Do not send the same letter, or even a similar letter, to more than one news outlet at a time—editors will remember and be unlikely to run your letters in the future.

Letter to the Editor Tips

Tips on Writing a Letter to the Editor (from the ACLU)

Tips on Writing Effective Letters to the Editor (from Reclaim Democracy!)

Tips for Writing Effective Letters to the Editor (from the Berkeley Media Studies Group)

Examples of Letters to the Editor

“Md.’s cash bail system costs taxpayers plenty” (The Baltimore Sun, Nov. 10, 2016), by Colin Starger

Cash bail unsafe and unfair to poor” (The Columbus Dispatch, Oct. 13, 2018) by Tim Young

Social media is integral to a complete communications plan and is a great way to “meet” reporters and news organizations. Journalists use Twitter to broadcast their own stories and to keep up with others’ news. Be sure to follow reporters and news organizations that cover criminal and social justice issues and retweet and like their posts.

We’ll talk here about Twitter and Facebook, but Instagram, among other platforms, can be helpful (and fun) too. Some tips:

Twitter

Twitter is an excellent resource for broadcasting information and connecting to stakeholders and community members. Some things to keep in mind when tweeting:

• The maximum length of a tweet is 280 characters, including spaces, hashtags (#EndCashBail), and tags (@CFBurdeen). That said, keep tweets to about 200 characters. Be concise.

• Twitter happens in real time. To stay relevant to your followers, and to gain new ones, aim to tweet 3-5 times a day.

• Always try to link to material that offers additional information, such as a resource on your website or a recent news article.

• Always include a hashtag, but don’t overdo it—more than three hashtags and your tweet will look like alphabet soup. Pro tip: Use the search function on Twitter to discover which hashtags are sparking conversations. Use hashtags that are trending to make sure you’re part of a broader conversation.

• Tag people in your tweets. For example, if you’re writing a call-to-action tweet, tag a legislator or a pretrial justice system stakeholder. This helps build online relationships.

• It’s important to like, retweet, and reply to others on Twitter. If you want people to share your tweets, you need to share theirs.

• It doesn’t hurt to send a thank-you note when someone follows you. (“Thanks for the follow!”)

• Feel free to abbreviate some (not all) words.

• Don’t overthink it. Crafting tweets isn’t hard. Have fun!

Facebook

Facebook is a more personal space than Twitter. Use this to your advantage to connect with followers on issues they care about.

• Facebook posts don’t have a length limit. Posts can be more in-depth than tweets, but don’t think of Facebook as the place to write the Great American Novel. Try to stick to 2-3 sentences and a link. Any more and you risk losing your audience’s attention.

• Tag organizations and share posts from other groups. This builds your online relationships.

• Facebook is a wonderful platform for video! Create and share 30- to 90-second videos that highlight your message. Keep your videos short and engaging.

• Photographs, or photo galleries, also help attract an audience.

The Problem

The use of money bail in most U.S. jurisdictions allows wealthier arrested people to buy their freedom regardless of how dangerous they might be while simultaneously jailing poor and working-class individuals who could be successful in the community before trial simply because they don’t have the resources to pay their way out. It is dangerous, unfair, and expensive, and it disproportionately harms people of color.

The Solution

The solution is four-pronged. To remember the points, we frame them as the “Four Rs”: reduce arrests, replace money bond, restrict detention, and raise equity.

 

Learn More

As jurisdictions move away from wealth as the determinant of whether someone stays in jail or not, the question arises of how courts would make that decision instead. While most people can and should be released while their cases are pending, there are a few, limited instances in which detention might be appropriate. In jurisdictions that do not use high bail amounts to effectively detain people, the concept of preventive detention is the mechanism that allows pretrial incarceration.

Our laws envision detention as the carefully limited exception’ to pretrial liberty. This ideal has not yet been achieved in most places for a variety of reasons, and many advocates within the pretrial community are reluctant, understandably, to accept changes that have the potential to continue to over-detain. The experience of New Jersey in reforming its pretrial practices is instructive.

• As a result of its pretrial reforms passed in 2015, New Jersey has effectively eliminated its use of money bail and created a constitutional amendment permitting pretrial detention. Two year into its reforms, New Jersey detained less than 7% of all people issued complaints, and since 2015, when preparation for pretrial reforms began, the pretrial jail population has fallen by nearly 44 percent.

• New Jersey has a number of legal protections in place to ensure that pretrial detention is used sparingly. A person must be released unless the prosecutor files a motion for detention. At the detention hearing, a person has the right to counsel and the right to present and cross-examine witnesses at a detention hearing. For all cases except when the court finds there is probable cause that the person committed murder or another crime that is subject to life imprisonment, there is a rebuttable presumption that some conditions exist, monetary and nonmonetary, that will “reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court when required, the protection of the safety of any other person or the community, and that the defendant will not obstruct or attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process.” The standard of proof for overcoming this presumption is clear and convincing evidence.

• In New Jersey, courts grant approximately half (51.2%) of detention motions filed by prosecutors, which does not include cases that have been dismissed by the courts or withdrawn by prosecutors, resulting in a detention rate of 6.4% in 2018, out of all people charged by complaint-warrants or complaint-summons.

• In addition to changing the law, changing the culture is a critical part of pretrial reform. Many states have laws on the books that could improve pretrial justice, but they are not used. In New Jersey, for example, then-Governor Chris Christie and Chief Justice Stuart Raben openly supported the reforms, and the reforms allowed two years for training and preparation around the new paradigm of pretrial justice before the law went into effect. In New York City, courts increased the number of people released on recognizance and slashed its jail populations through a culture change that eventually helped drive statewide pretrial justice reform.

In order to keep preventive detention as a seldomly used option, it must not be the result of a pretrial assessment, but the outcome of a separate hearing on the issue detention, with vigorous representation on both sides, accompanied by a broader change in culture to commit to maximizing pretrial liberty.

Courts have always been required to assess an accused person who appears at first appearance or arraignment to determine what, if any, conditions of release should be ordered beyond “return to court without a new arrest.” The debate is how, not if, they will conduct a pretrial assessment–by a subjective-only process or one aided by an objective tool.

Any discussion about pretrial assessment—subjective or aided by a tool—should acknowledge and prioritize the fact that racial disparities pervade the legal system and are reflected in criminal history records. All pretrial assessment methods should be examined methodically and repeatedly for their likelihood to produce racially disparate impacts, and the results should be made available to the community.

To understand how pretrial assessment tools are constructed, how they should be used, and what their limitations are, visit the University of Pretrial page on pretrial assessment tools for a short tutorial. It is critical to remember the science is about correlation, not causation – we don’t know what causes failures to appear or rearrest during the pretrial phase, only what factors are present at the same time as those failures. Key issues around pretrial assessment tools include:

Pretrial assessment tools have the potential to reduce incarceration:

• Data from pretrial assessment tool studies can be part of a commitment to decarceration and equity, because they show that the overwhelming majority of people do not require onerous conditions of supervision in order to make court dates and avoid rearrest before trial.

• Research shows that pretrial assessment tools can reduce the effects of implicit bias, but only if data is collected and analyzed by race about the conditions set by the court, how long it takes to obtain releases, the rates of technical violations and responses to them, and revocations.

Pretrial assessment tools do not replace judicial discretion:

• Pretrial assessment tools synthesize already-considered information about an arrested person, such as the current charge and criminal history. They do not replace defense or prosecutorial arguments nor judicial discretion, but instead aid the court in distinguishing between pertinent and extraneous, typically more biased, information. Current research suggests that less than a dozen factors are actually relevant to court appearance and public safety, the legal considerations of pretrial release decisions.

Pretrial assessment tools and accompanying decision making frameworks should never recommend detention:

• Pretrial assessment tools should never result in the automatic detention of anyone. The only lawful way to accomplish pretrial detention is through a preventive detention hearing with full legal protections. For more information about preventive detention, click here .

The thoughtful selection and implementation of pretrial assessment tools are critical to changing pretrial justice practices:

• Not all pretrial assessment tools are the same. The research used to create pretrial assessment tools needs to be fully transparent about what data were used to create the tool, the statistical analysis done to determine which factors were significant and to what degree (the correlated factors and their weighting). Just as importantly, the result of a pretrial assessment tool should provide the likelihood of appearing in court and doing so without a new arrest. This would mean saying “a 95% chance of appearing for all court dates and a 87% chance of doing so without a new charge” rather than saying someone was a low risk or scored a “1.”

• All judges, prosecutors, defenders and other court staff should be trained on how the tool was constructed, how it is scored, and how it should be used in reference to least restrictive conditions.

• Pretrial assessment tools, if not created by local data, should be validated on local data. Validation means that the assessment tool is tested to ensure it produces accurate results for the population to whom it is being applied. Assessment tools also need to be re-validated periodically to ensure they continue to be accurate.

• Note on word choice: We recommend against using the words “algorithm” or “machine learning” to describe pretrial assessment tools. From our point of view, while it may be true that a tool is an algorithm, it can imply a complex hidden mathematical calculation, which should not be the case in terms of scoring the tool. And ”machine learning” implies that with each decision and outcome, the tool would “learn” and thus change, which is not an accurate reflection of how the tool is used.

Implementation of a pretrial assessment tool is never the sum total of pretrial justice reform. Jurisdictions that have implemented pretrial assessment tools but continued to assign secured bond amounts, now just by “risk level,” typically see little to no change in their jail populations. In Virginia, for example, an assessment tool was implemented in 2005, but many people (62%) placed on pretrial supervision are still required to post bond; a 2018 report from the Virginia State Crime Commission found that jail populations had remained steady for the previous five years, and that the total pretrial jail population had gradually increased. New Jersey, which has cut its jail population nearly in half since 2015 and has virtually eliminated money bond, is an example of how legal reforms, cultural change and assessments can work together to create a new paradigm of pretrial justice.

If only facts and research mattered, then we probably would not still be working to end the use of money bail to obtain pretrial release. But as the Opportunity Agenda , a social justice communications lab, notes, “Leading with facts and figures can reinforce an idea, but it doesn’t do much to persuade, particularly in this age of ‘fake news’. Leading with values, on the other hand, activates emotions and opens an audience’s hearts and ears to the message.”

We know from our polling work that across political parties, we share a deeply held commitment to certain values. We treasure equality and liberty. We also want a criminal justice system that promotes public safety and commonsense solutions. These are goals that can bring many people with different viewpoints together around pretrial justice issues.

The Opportunity Agenda (OA) recommends the VPSA structure, whether you are writing an op-ed, social media post, or speech. VPSA stands for Values, Problem, Solution and Action. Under 'An Example of Values-Based Message' button, you can see how pretrial justice can be presented in the VPSA framework.

The bail bond industry can and will make arguments to justify the continued practice of making freedom available only to those who can afford to pay for it. It is important to first know how the industry works. For-profit bail bondsmen are responsible for only one thing: court appearance.

• For-profit bail bondsmen have no financial or legal obligation to public safety. They do not “promise” the court to prevent customers’ arrest on new charges.

• In fact, for-profit bail bondsmen do not pay the court if a customer is arrested during the pretrial release period. When a bondsman’s customer is rearrested, even for a violent crime, courts often order another bond in a higher amount—effectively giving the bondsman a bonus for failure.

• For the right price, most for-profit bondsmen will help anyone get out of jail, no matter how dangerous the person may be. Even if one bonding company passes on an arrested person, a competing bondsman may not.

• When someone does not appear in court, the bond is supposed to be forfeited, meaning that bail bond agent is responsible for the entire amount of the bond. However, the bail bond industry has helped enact laws to make it extremely difficult for jurisdictions to seek bond forfeiture; in some documented cases, jurisdictions are owed tens of millions in uncollected bond forfeitures.

No credible evidence supports the for-profit bail bond industry’s claim that money bond helps assure appearance in court. After the district attorney in Philadelphia implemented a new policy to stop asking for cash bail for 25 different misdemeanors and felonies, research showed there was no change in court appearance rates.1  Research shows that instead, court reminders and case processing reforms are effective in assuring court appearance.

Moreover, the bail bond industry does not save jurisdictions money. All told, U.S. communities spend nearly $14 billion a year to detain people who have not been convicted of the charges against them.2 Corporate money bonds further impoverish already struggling communities. To take the example of one state: communities in Maryland’s poorest ZIP codes were charged more than $256 million in nonrefundable corporate bail bond premiums from 2011 to 2015; more than $75 million in bail bond premiums were charged in cases that were resolved without any finding of wrongdoing.3

Because of the enormous profits at stake, the bail bond industry has undertaken a variety of strategies to attack pretrial justice reform. These attacks are often centered on raising alarms about public safety through unsubstantiated or exaggerated claims. It is useful to be able to identify and understand these tactics, which include:

Mounting attacks on public safety, either through individual cases or statistical reports. The complex nature of crime makes it difficult to link any outcome to any one cause. In New Jersey, for example, crime rates have fallen significantly since the implementation of major bail reform, but without further research, one cannot claim a correlation. At the same time, the bail bond industry has focused on individual cases to claim the failure of reform systemwide, but their dire predictions have failed to come true and are not supported by the larger trends. By centering measurable data and consistently telling the story of pretrial justice reform efforts, these attacks can be better evaluated and put in the appropriate context.

Using the words ‘algorithm,’ ‘artificial intelligence’ or ‘machine learning’ to make pretrial assessments seem mysterious and inaccessible. Properly developed and implemented, pretrial assessments should be understood by all in terms of why certain factors appear, how they are weighted, how the overall tool is scored, and their proper role in informing pretrial decisions. Properly used, a pretrial assessment is an objective support to judicial discretion on the setting of conditions of release (never to justify detention). See our talking points on pretrial assessments. While the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, representing over 200 organizations, has taken a position against pretrial assessments due to concerns of racial bias, it has also identified procedures to promote fairness and transparency for jurisdictions that do use them. The Leadership Conference has also stated “To the bail bonds industry, if it wasn’t transparent before, here it is again – loud and clear: When it comes to monetary bail, we take a position of abolition.

Co-opting legitimate civil rights concerns in pretrial reform for their own purposes. The current system of for-profit bail bonding exacerbates the existing bias in the pretrial system, and many advocates have expressed concerns over the possible negative impact of reforms, such as pretrial assessments (see above). The bail bond industry claims to share these concerns, while disregarding the deep and consistent harm the industry has caused to people of color and their communities. Compared to white men charged with the same crime and with the same criminal histories, African-American men receive bail amounts 35% higher; for Hispanic men, bail is 19% higher than white men.4 Meanwhile, for-profit bail bonding drains millions of dollars out of communities of color.5

Suggesting that money bond is part of a long-standing legal tradition. The right to money bond is not part of a long-standing legal tradition. In early English history, sureties were not allowed to profit from any bail arrangement. In Colonial times, there was no up-front requirement to pay before release. The federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed that bail does not mean money bail. In upholding New Jersey’s virtual elimination of cash bail, the court noted “we do not construe [the Eighth Amendment’s] original meaning to include a right to make a cash deposit or to obtain a corporate surety bond to secure pretrial release.”

Arguing that the counties or states cannot handle the financial or logistical burdens of pretrial reform. The use of for-profit bail bonds has contributed to the oversized justice system that we have today; data shows that the detention of people charged but not convicted, many of whom remained locked up because they could not afford bail, accounts for 95% of the growth in jails from 2000-2014. Moreover, court reminder systems and pretrial supervision for a limited number of people costs a fraction of the cost of locking people up. Pretrial reform must be a multi-pronged, broad-based strategy that includes reducing the number of people who enter the criminal justice system and the depth of contact within the system.

When dealing with claims from the bail bond industry, the first question to ask is whether to respond at all. It may be that the claim is not attracting much attention, and that refuting the claim will only fuel attention. If you decide that your or your organization needs to respond, frame your argument in terms of your values, , rather than theirs. You are better off creating the terms of your argument, rather than being in reaction mode.

 

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1. Aurelie Ouss and Megan Stevenson, Evaluating the Impacts of Eliminating Prosecutorial Requests for Cash Bail (February 17, 2019). George Mason Legal Studies Research Paper No. LS 19-08.

2. Selling Off Our Freedom: How Insurance Corporations Have Taken Over Our Bail System, Color of Change and the American Civil Liberties Union (2017).

3. Arpit Gupta, Douglas Swanson and Ethan Frenchman, The High Cost of Bail: How Maryland’s Reliance on Money Bail Jails the Poor and Costs the Community Millions, Maryland Office of the Public Defender (2016).

4. Jonah B. Gelbach and Shawn D. Bushway, Testing for Racial Discrimination in Bail Setting Using Nonparametric Estimation of a Parametric Model (August 20, 2011).

5. Isaac Bryan, Terry Allen, Kelly Lytle Hernandez, and Consultant, Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, The Price For Freedom: Bail in the City of L.A., University of California Los Angeles Bunche for African American Studies (2017).

Data on pretrial decision points and outcomes provide a common understanding of how pretrial justice works in a jurisdiction and a baseline for measuring change. Moreover, pretrial data increase the transparency of the system. Here are just a few examples of how jurisdictions are examining and sharing data:

 

 

 

 

 

You may be able to find state and county-level pretrial information through different agencies. Vera Institute of Justice Incarceration Trends website provides state and county-level data on jail admissions and pretrial incarceration rates through 2015. Measures for Justice has data for Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, including jail capacity utilization, and for some states, release on recognizance, failure to pay money bond and reductions in bond amounts. As part of your advocacy for improved pretrial practices, you will want to include, to the extent possible, a data collection plan based on your current system’s goals and concerns as well as a process for sharing and reviewing that information. As part of its strategy to raise equity in the pretrial system, PJI urges jurisdictions to take the first of many steps  by including the collection and examination of data along racial and ethnic categories.

Court observations can also be a valuable source of information, both quantitative and qualitative. Organizations in Chicago, Boston and New Orleans have used court observations to provide insight into pretrial cases, hold elected officials accountable, and call for change to court practices. PJI recorded a webcast on how to conduct court watching with our partners at the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, created a discussion thread on court observations in the University of Pretrial, and designed a checklist for observing first appearances.

As jurisdictions move away from wealth as the determinant of whether someone stays in jail or not, the question arises of how courts would make that decision instead. While most people can and should be released while their cases are pending, there are a few, limited instances in which detention might be appropriate. In jurisdictions that do not use high bail amounts to effectively detain people, the concept of preventive detention is the mechanism that allows pretrial incarceration.

Our laws envision detention as the carefully limited exception’ to pretrial liberty. This ideal has not yet been achieved in most places for a variety of reasons, and many advocates within the pretrial community are reluctant, understandably, to accept changes that have the potential to continue to over-detain. The experience of New Jersey in reforming its pretrial practices is instructive.

• As a result of its pretrial reforms passed in 2015, New Jersey has effectively eliminated its use of money bail and created a constitutional amendment permitting pretrial detention. Two year into its reforms, New Jersey detained less than 7% of all people issued complaints, and since 2015, when preparation for pretrial reforms began, the pretrial jail population has fallen by nearly 44 percent.

• New Jersey has a number of legal protections in place to ensure that pretrial detention is used sparingly. A person must be released unless the prosecutor files a motion for detention. At the detention hearing, a person has the right to counsel and the right to present and cross-examine witnesses at a detention hearing. For all cases except when the court finds there is probable cause that the person committed murder or another crime that is subject to life imprisonment, there is a rebuttable presumption that some conditions exist, monetary and nonmonetary, that will “reasonably assure the defendant’s appearance in court when required, the protection of the safety of any other person or the community, and that the defendant will not obstruct or attempt to obstruct the criminal justice process.” The standard of proof for overcoming this presumption is clear and convincing evidence.

• In New Jersey, courts grant approximately half (51.2%) of detention motions filed by prosecutors, which does not include cases that have been dismissed by the courts or withdrawn by prosecutors, resulting in a detention rate of 6.4% in 2018, out of all people charged by complaint-warrants or complaint-summons.

• In addition to changing the law, changing the culture is a critical part of pretrial reform. Many states have laws on the books that could improve pretrial justice, but they are not used. In New Jersey, for example, then-Governor Chris Christie and Chief Justice Stuart Raben openly supported the reforms, and the reforms allowed two years for training and preparation around the new paradigm of pretrial justice before the law went into effect. In New York City, courts increased the number of people released on recognizance and slashed its jail populations through a culture change that eventually helped drive statewide pretrial justice reform.

In order to keep preventive detention as a seldomly used option, it must not be the result of a pretrial assessment, but the outcome of a separate hearing on the issue detention, with vigorous representation on both sides, accompanied by a broader change in culture to commit to maximizing pretrial liberty.

A growing number of organizations have spoken out in favor of pretrial reform. A list is maintained in the University of Pretrial.

The Pretrial Justice Institute offers a range of publications that provide information on pretrial justice system improvements and other key topics. To start, review Essential PJI Reports and Recent PJI Reports.