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A professor teaches students in a court diversion program in Middlebury, Vermont, in May 2008. (Toby Talbot/The Associated Press)

New York — Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) today announced the completion of the third phase of a four-phase project that will culminate later this month in the release of the first interactive database of laws related to pretrial justice in all 50 states. Today’s release covers laws pertaining to the crucial issues of pretrial detention and diversion. The materials complement previously released state-by-state summaries of statutes on related topics, including the use of citations in lieu of arrest, conditions of release, and pretrial risk assessments.

“Decisions made in the pretrial phase of the criminal justice system are enormously important to the goals we all care about – public safety, cost efficiency, and the fair administration of justice,” said Anne Milgram, LJAF’s Vice President of Criminal Justice. “Using the resources developed through this project, states can learn from one another as legislators focus on these vital issues.”

The project was carried out by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and funded by LJAF. The state-by-state summaries are available on the NCSL website, at http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/justice/pretrial-policy-state-laws.aspx.

The current research reveals that many states attempt to limit pretrial detention and to provide alternatives to detention where practical. Several highlights from the research include:

  • States typically provide most defendants the opportunity to remain in the community while awaiting case disposition. Judges are generally permitted to order detention only when a defendant is charged with a very serious crime, or when a defendant meets other criteria, such as violating conditions of release or committing a new crime while on pretrial release. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia require a hearing to determine if the defendant will be detained or released pretrial.
  • Most states provide alternatives to traditional criminal justice proceedings for certain people charged with criminal offenses, a practice known as diversion. Forty-two states have enacted pretrial diversion legislation, under which individuals are diverted prior to conviction; a guilty plea may or may not be required. If the defendant successfully completes the diversion program, the charges are dismissed.
  • Thirty-eight states have enacted legislation that creates diversion programs to address specific needs or populations. Some of these include: substance abuse, mental illnesses, veterans or active military, and domestic violence. Twenty-four states have authorized the use of drug, mental health, veterans, and other types of specialized courts for pretrial diversion.
  • Eleven states authorize pretrial diversion without regard to specialized need or population. In these states, diversion may be permitted depending on the offense charged.

“We believe that LJAF’s partnership with NCSL on this project will help jurisdictions identify and target ways to improve pretrial justice,” said Milgram. “These resources will provide lawmakers and criminal justice practitioners with accessible and comprehensive information on the existing legal framework as well as opportunities for reform.”

In addition to the summaries of existing laws, earlier this week LJAF and NCSL released a 2013 Pretrial Legislation Mid-Year Update, with information on bills introduced through May 31, 2013. This supplements previous reports on pending legislation published in November 2012 and March 2013. The Mid-Year Update reveals that thus far in 2013, 471 bills and resolutions addressing pretrial policies have been introduced across the 50 states, in addition to 519 bills that were carried over from last year. Common issues addressed in the legislation include eligibility and conditions for pretrial release, commercial bail, pretrial services, citation in lieu of arrest, and diversion. The Mid-Year Update is available on the NCSL website, at www.ncsl.org.