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Pretrial risk assessing
Stephanie Pope-Earley sorts through defendant files scored with risk-assessment software for municipal court Judge Jimmy Jackson Jr. on the first day of the software’s use in Cleveland in August 2017. (Dake Kang/The Associated Press)

National Partnership Unites Diverse Voices in Pretrial Justice Movement

Collective supported by $48 million in grants marks one of Arnold Ventures’ most significant investments in criminal justice reform to date

It’s considered the front door of the criminal justice system, beginning the moment a person comes into contact with law enforcement and ending when charges are resolved. And few would disagree the pretrial system in the United States, which ensnares 465,000 people on any given day, is broken. As the rallying cry for pretrial justice has grown louder, a national group is uniting powerful voices and embracing a unique public policy opportunity.

The launch of Arnold Ventures’ National Partnership for Pretrial Justice, backed by a total $48 million in grants, brings together a diverse slate of research, technical assistance, policy, and advocacy organizations dedicated to improving pretrial justice across the country. 

In an interactive livestream moderated by Cherise Burdeen, CEO of the Pretrial Justice Institute, and joined by more than 130 pretrial justice advocates from 31 states, Executive Vice President of Criminal Justice Jeremy Travis announced the partnership by first describing the realities of the era of punitive excess.” 

Among those realities:

  • The overall rate of incarceration has increased significantly since the late 1970s.
  • While arrests have remained constant, jail admissions are increasing. 
  • Pretrial detentions are rising in rural and exurban America, while they are falling in urban centers.

Behind each of these data points are people,” Travis said. The National Partnership will enable us to build on the work we’ve done – learning from our colleagues, learning from the practice community, and learning from our philanthropic partners, such as the MacArthur Foundation.”

Composed of more than two dozen Arnold Ventures grantees representing $48 million in pretrial justice grants, the partnership reflects a bold, new community of practice aimed at reforming America’s broken and costly pretrial justice system.

Vice President of Criminal Justice James Cadogan said the decision to build a community of practice among grantees was rooted in a desire to unite various approaches and areas of expertise around a single end state of reforming the pretrial system. 

We have a number of grantees who don’t necessarily agree on everything, but are all committed to the ultimate goal of reducing unnecessary and unjust pretrial detention,” Cadogan said. 

Describing this moment in the history of bail reform as possibly the precipice of a national movement,” Cadogan said the National Partnership would highlight varying approaches to pretrial reform in an intentional way, whether focused on topics such as bail practices, prosecutorial diversion, and public defender caseloads, or process, such as research, evaluation, advocacy, and education. 

That diversity is what we have seen as the beauty of the movement right now,” Cadogan said. The real genesis for the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice is having seen the power of collaboration in individual Arnold Ventures grants and projects, and having seen the power of collaboration in the field amongst practitioners. The idea is to elevate that. To build it up. To highlight it and use it to fuel reform.”

Who is involved

National Partnership members represent organizations working on prosecution, public defense, case processing, and rural jail reform. Among the grant-funded initiatives:

  • The Center for Effective Public Policy will provide training and implementation assistance under Arnold Ventures’ Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research project, supporting a variety of pretrial improvements and including intensive assistance in up to 10 Research-Action Sites over five years;
  • RTI International and Stanford University will rigorously evaluate the impact of the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) in the Research-Action Sites, as well as conduct additional research on risk assessments;
  • The Public Safety Lab at New York University will study the impacts of bail, pretrial detention, and counsel practices on defendant-level outcomes across 1,028 diverse counties;
  • The Center for Court Innovation is studying ways to address racial disparities in data-driven risk assessment models;
  • The Vera Institute of Justice will create a rural jails research and policy network through two university-based hubs to better understand drivers of rural jail growth;
  • The Pretrial Justice Institute will examine how the pretrial field’s use of legal and evidence-based practices has changed in the past decade, asking questions about citations, booking release authority, the timing of the initial bail hearing and parties present, eligibility for detention, bail schedules, risk assessment, release conditions, support services, and diversion options;
  • The National Center for State Courts is conducting research, establishing benchmarks, and providing guidance to state courts about how best to improve the efficiency of criminal case processing;
  • RAND Corporation will conduct a randomized controlled trial in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, on the impact of having a public defender at a criminal defendant’s preliminary arraignment, with the overall goal of improving the criminal justice system; and,
  • The Urban Institute will capture baseline data regarding prosecutorial decision-making, assess the state of prosecutorial decision-making data collection nationwide, and identify potential areas for future data collection.
Number of people jailed before trial, many because they can’t afford bail
Amount spent every year to jail people who haven’t been convicted
Counties working with Arnold Ventures grantees/partners to reduce unnecessary and unjust detention
New and existing grants represented in partnership