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Pretrial News 10 Minute Read

What’s Happening in Pretrial Justice? May 2023

Wendy Shang
Words by
Wendy Shang
Published on
May 30, 2023

We're always keeping up with the current landscape of pretrial justice and include a roundup in our newsletter each month. Read the latest below...

CA Court says no to L.A. bail schedule, recognizes “criminogenic” effect. The court in Urquidi v. Los Angeles, a class action challenging the practice of jailing people unable to pay bond amounts set by the city’s bail schedule, has issued a preliminary injunction, requiring the city and its actors to stop using the bail schedule and to return to a $0 emergency bail schedule as of May 24. The strongly-worded decision also noted that evidence brought by plaintiffs shows that “secured money bail causes more crime than would be the case were money bail schedules no longer enforced.” A preliminary injunction is a way to prevent irreparable harm while a case is pending; the case will be set for trial next year to seek permanent forms of relief. Kudos to Civil Rights Corps, Public Justice, and the law firms of Munger, Tolles & Olson and Hadsell Stormer for bringing the suit.

It’s not just mass incarceration. Some 1.9 million people are behind bars in the U.S., but nearly twice as many people are under the supervision of probation and parole agencies, including pretrial services housed within probation. In their updated report, Punishment Beyond Prisons 2023, the Prison Policy Initiative shows why this oft-overlooked issue desperately needs more attention. In Ohio, 39% of people in jail are there for supervision violations; in Georgia and West Virginia, it’s 28%. A database shows how your state stacks up in terms of incarceration and supervision, and the report concludes with recommendations of how to change parole and probation into models of decarceration.

Hot tip for reporters. The Center for Just Journalism has produced a guide to bail reform for reporters. The site includes a glossary of key terms, recent findings from six jurisdictions highlighting data on racial disparities, jail populations and use of money bond, as well as suggestions for reporting opportunities, with links to organizations willing and able to help reporters tell their stories ethically. 

Mississippi ends the “dead zone.” In many counties in Mississippi, people facing felony charges lose their court-appointed attorneys after their initial court appearance, and do not receive new attorneys until they are indicted—a process that can take years because prosecutors do not face deadlines to bring cases before a grand jury. The Mississippi Supreme Court has addressed this “dead zone” through a 2023 rule change requiring legal representation for people awaiting an indictment, though the state struggles to have sufficient numbers of public defenders along with appropriate training.

Poor, then poorer. A study of legal financial obligations (LFOs) in Washington by the Vera Institute finds that 78% of people with LFO debt in the state meet the standard for indigency. People charged with misdemeanors are, on average, charged $695 in fines and fees; people charged with felonies average $1,302. Within a four year period, 44% of LFOs assessed in misdemeanor cases are paid, and only 8% of LFOs in felony cases. Read The Burden of Court Debt on Washingtonians here

Jail deaths rise in North Carolina. For the sixth-straight year, jail deaths rose in North Carolina. In 2020, 56 people died in the state’s jails; that number increased by 40% in 2021, when 67 people died. In 2022, 77 people died. For some context, a report from Disability Rights North Carolina, A Slap on the Wrist and a Rubber Stamp: NC Lets Sheriffs Break All the Rules, found that in 2017-2019, out of 109 jails statewide, 41 failed every single inspection by the state, and 13 failed 80-99% of their inspections.

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