April 6, 2023

Washington, D.C. (Nov. 1, 2017) — A new report released Nov. 1 by the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) measures the quality of pretrial justice systems across the United States.

The State of Pretrial Justice in America examines pretrial justice – the phase of the criminal justice system from initial contact with law enforcement to the resolution of charges through a plea, trial or dismissal — at the state level and for the nation as a whole. As the report details, the state of pretrial justice in our country is alarming:

  • Over one-third of states received a failing grade due to high rates of unnecessary pretrial detention and failure to implement evidence-based tools to guide decisions about who goes to jail before trial.
  • The nation as a whole received a “D”: nearly two-thirds of the U.S. jail population has not yet been to trial and only one in four Americans lives in a jurisdiction that uses a validated evidence-based pretrial assessment meant to guide discretion and reduce bias.
  • Only one state, New Jersey, earned an “A” grade – New Jersey effectively eliminated money bail at the beginning of 2017.

There is cause for hope, however. The report highlights several states where significant pretrial improvements seem to be on the horizon, as more and more jurisdictions begin to move away from using money bond to make decisions about pretrial release.

“The State of Pretrial Justice in America is our attempt to capture the current standard of pretrial justice practices in all 50 states through using basic indicators and data states have made available to the public,” said PJI CEO Cherise Fanno Burdeen. “It is a baseline against which we can gauge progress from individual states and the country as a whole in coming years.”

The report grades states based on three measures: the per capita rate of people held in pretrial detention; how widely evidence-based pretrial assessment is used in each state; and the functional elimination of money bond. This third metric is vital to grading a state’s pretrial justice system because, as the report reads, “[a]s long as pretrial systems use money as a condition of pretrial release, poor and working class people will remain behind bars while those who are wealthy go home, regardless of their likelihood of pretrial success.”

Federal statistics show that nearly two-thirds of people in U.S. jails have not been convicted of the charges against them. Research shows many of these men and women could be safely released before their trial, but instead remain behind bars solely because they cannot afford money bond. The widespread jailing of people who have a high probability of pretrial success in the community is a major driver of the nation’s mass incarceration crisis.

The report calls for replacing money bail with the use of evidence-based pretrial assessments that can help courts more accurately identify those individuals who merit admission to jail before trial because they pose an unmanageable risk to the community. Yet, the report finds that fewer than 3 percent of U.S. residents live in a jurisdiction that has functionally eliminated money bail.

The Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) is a national organization working to advance safe, fair, and effective pretrial justice that honors and protects all people. “Pretrial” refers to the portion of the criminal justice system that extends from a person’s first contact with law enforcement until any resulting charges are resolved, through a trial, dismissal, or a plea. To learn more about PJI or their 3 Days Count initiative, which supports commonsense solutions to longstanding pretrial justice challenges, visit www.pretrial.org.

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