Knowing what is happening in the pretrial system in your state and community is the first step toward progress.Here are five basic questions to ask:
The county budget is a policy document that weighs public priorities against available public resources. How much is your county spending on jail and other pretrial expenses compared to other public needs, such as schools, health care, roads, or libraries? Many counties post their budgets online.If your county does not, you may need to get in touch with your county representative.
A focus group of judges from general and limited jurisdiction courts identified a lack of options for supervised release in the community as one of 10 major challenges to making effective pretrial release decisions, especially for people who are frequently in court because of mental health issues, substance abuse, or petty crimes. What options exist in your community? Is there a fee for using these alternatives? Look up the website for your county court system; many county court websites have sections written for people who have contact with the system. See if alternatives are mentioned. An effective pretrial services program can undertake many of these functions, at an enormous cost savings over the system of pretrial detention.
Many professionals are involved at the pretrial phase, including public defenders, prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement. If you have the opportunity to speak to someone involved in the pretrial phase, you can ask:
- Does our system do an effective job of deciding who should be released before trial and who should not?
- Are there people who are locked up simply because they cannot afford cash bail?
- What supports can our community provide to maximize pretrial release while also ensuring court appearance and public safety?
- What do you see as possible solutions to the problem of unnecessary pretrial detention?