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Pretrial Justice

Pretrial risk assessing

We must eliminate unjust pretrial detention and create a justice system where jail is only used when absolutely necessary.

When somebody is arrested, a judge decides if they may be freed before trial or if they should be held in jail. This decision is informed by various system stakeholders, including prosecutors and defense attorneys. Judges must weigh defendants’ fundamental right to liberty against any risk they may pose to public safety or the risk they might flee before their court date. But, frequently, judges do not have objective information to make that assessment and, too often, the issue of risk is not addressed: Judges set a bail amount, and poor people are either locked up or in debt. Others can buy their freedom, and community safety is neglected.

Wealth should not determine whether a defendant is released or jailed before trial. To that end — and in an effort to create a pretrial system that holds fewer people in jail, protects their rights, and enhances public safety — we work with jurisdictions to implement comprehensive reforms to pretrial justice practices. This can include using risk assessment to provide judges with objective data; ensuring protections for due process of law; and advocating for evidence-based practices in prosecutors’ and public defenders’ offices.

To advance pretrial justice across the country, we developed the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice, a community of practice that connects and elevates diverse expertise and approaches in pretrial reform.

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Image: 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)

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
Amount more in bail African-American men pay compared to white men charged with the same crime
Proportion of prosecutors’ offices that collect data on pretrial decision-making
Pretrial Partnership

It's time to reform our pretrial system

The National Partnership for Pretrial Justice is a community of research, technical assistance, policy, and advocacy organizations working to advance pretrial justice nationally and in more than 35 states across the country.

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