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Photo by Dario Lopez-Mills/The Associated Press

New York — The Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) today announced the release of a new resource that provides information on laws in all 50 states that affect pretrial release, detention, and the issuance of citations in lieu of arrest. This resource is the second phase of a yearlong project that LJAF developed to enhance access to information about state laws and legislation regarding pretrial justice. The research, which was carried out by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and funded by LJAF, provides the first comprehensive, state-by-state summaries of existing statutes related to these critical criminal justice issues. It is available on the NCSL website.

The decisions made at the front end of the criminal justice system, taking place between arrest and sentencing, are critically important to public safety, local budgets, and the fair administration of justice,” said Anne Milgram, LJAF’s Vice President of Criminal Justice. This research fills a tremendous gap in the national understanding of how states and localities are addressing these issues, and we believe it will be an invaluable resource for jurisdictions to learn from one another as they seek to improve their criminal justice systems.”

LJAF and NCSL also released today a brief report supplementing their November 2012 50-state survey of pretrial legislation with information on bills introduced since that date. Both resources released today will be part of an interactive web-based database of pending legislation and existing laws that will go live on NCSL’s site in mid-2013.

LJAF’s interest in these issues is based on our belief that there is tremendous opportunity for transformation of the criminal justice system by focusing on front-end reform. Our work with NCSL is an important part of our goal of producing substantial and widespread improvement in the criminal justice system,” said Milgram.

The resource developed through this grant will enable lawmakers, criminal justice practitioners, researchers, and the public to easily and quickly find comprehensive information on the laws governing pretrial release eligibility, guidance for setting conditions of release, and standards for issuing citations in every state.

The research reveals a number of important trends:

  • Most states have a presumption in favor of releasing all defendants before trial, except those who are charged with certain types of serious crimes. Forty states have such a provision in their state constitution, and in instances where the constitution is silent on this, eight states have created a statutory presumption.
  • Nineteen states have a presumption in favor of permitting pretrial release either without requiring the defendant to post a monetary bond, or through an unsecured bond. About half of the states have enacted statutes that provide guidance to courts in setting conditions of pretrial release. In fifteen states, courts are required to impose the least restrictive condition, or combination of conditions, that will reasonably ensure court appearance and public safety.
  • States have recently begun to require the use of risk assessments in pretrial release decision making. Currently, nine states instruct courts to consider the results of a risk assessment when making pretrial release decisions.
  • In all but seven states, statutes provide that law enforcement officers may in certain instances issue a citation in lieu of arrest. Most states only allow citations to be used for low-level misdemeanor offenses, and they statutorily prohibit issuing a citation if there is reason to believe that the individual will not appear in court, poses a danger to the community or himself, or has any outstanding warrants.

Additional research in this area was funded by the Public Welfare Foundation.