During the last decade, research on practices to improve pretrial release decisions has increased dramatically. This clearly demonstrates the need to move to a risk-based system, relying on actuarial instruments to inform decisions regarding the likelihood the defendant will appear in court or pose a danger to the community. The research also has much to say about the short-term and long-term harms that accrue to defendants who remain in detention pending their trial, as well as potential threats to public safety when high risk defendants are able to pay for their release. In recognition of this research, the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) have joined multiple national criminal justice stakeholder organizations to promote system change. In 2015, both organizations provided educational programs on pretrial justice reform issues to their members, and are now engaged in convening a series of regional summits of multi-stakeholder teams to craft action plans for improving state court pretrial justice practices.
SJI recently awarded a Strategic Initiative Grant to support a national Pretrial Justice Reform and the State Courts Initiative. The Initiative will build on the momentum generated by CCJ and COSCA, and help courts implement legal and evidence-based pretrial practices through the development of national resources and the provision of technical assistance (TA) targeted specifically to state courts. The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI), the leading organizations in judicial and pretrial reform, will partner to implement the Initiative. In consultation with an Advisory Committee of judicial and pretrial reform leaders, NCSC and PJI will produce and widely disseminate a court pretrial organizational assessment tool, online educational tools, written policy papers, and provide TA for jurisdictions seeking expertise in specific pretrial areas.
The Initiative will be informed by the CCJ and COSCA National Task Force on Fines, Fees, and Bail Practices, the action plans developed by states participating in the regional Pretrial Justice Reform Summits, and efforts by state courts working with the NCSC and PJI.
As a result of this Initiative, state courts will have access to resources to facilitate implementation of their specific pretrial system improvements, as well as enhance the success of their reform efforts. NCSC and PJI will highlight individual jurisdictions’ achievements electronically and in presentations to encourage knowledge-sharing and peer-to-peer learning across the state court community. By supporting court systems implementing legal and evidence-based pretrial practices, the Initiative ultimately will help reduce unnecessary confinement of defendants based solely on their inability to pay, and ensure that dangerous defendants are appropriately detained. The Initiative also will assist state and local courts in their efforts to ensure equal justice and due process for all.