Supporting the Nation's Judicial System & the Public it Serves

Criminal Justice Reform

SJI assists state courts in taking a leadership role in reviewing fines, fees, and bail practices to ensure processes are fair and access to justice is assured; implementing alternative forms of sanction; developing processes for indigency review; promoting transparency, gover­nance, and structural reforms that promote access to justice, accountability, and oversight; and implementing innovative diversion and re-entry programs that serve to improve outcomes for justice-involved persons and the justice system. 

National Task Force on Fine, Fees and Pretrial Practices

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) is supporting the launch of the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) National Task Force on Fines, Fees, and Pre-Trial Practices 2.0. The CCJ/COSCA Taskforce 2.0 will 1) update the landscape of initiatives undertaken by state courts; 2) broaden the scope to include fees and fines in juvenile cases; and 3) develop and distribute educational materials and practical tools to assist state courts.

Pretrial Services Program Implementation

The 19th Judicial District Court of Louisiana (JDC)is working with the Justice Management Institute (JMI) to develop and implement a high-functioning Pretrial Services Program within the 19th JDC. The Court is looking to expand current services to align with national standards and best practices in order to best serve the community and provide defendants the least restrictive conditions of release without negatively impacting safety or court appearances.

Justice Court Access Program

Justice Courts are the “People’s Courts” of Mississippi, handling small claims civil and misdemeanor criminal cases.  The goals of the Justice Court Access Program (JCAP) are to establish best practices for Justice Court procedures in emergency situations like a pandemic, provide self-help resources for self-represented litigants in Justice Court, and create a virtual navigator program to assist Justice Court litigants throughout the state.  In Phase I of this project, the Mississippi Center for Justice:

  • Assessed how Justice Courts transitioned to virtual court through surveys of all 82 Justice Courts in Mississippi;
  • Compiled the survey results and recommend uniform policies and procedures, along with standardized forms for self-represented litigants;
  • Created resources for the court and self-represented litigants, including a training video for judges and court staff and self-help videos for self-represented litigants;
  • Developed an online virtual court navigator; and
  • Provided court and public awareness for the new resources.

The MCJ has identified three areas of maximum disunity in procedures and practices between the various Justice Courts in Mississippi:  1) service of process; 2) availability of appeals; and 3) docketing. In Phase II of the project, MCJ will launch a pilot program with five Justice Courts to implement reforms that will have the largest impact on guaranteeing uniform justice in the state.

Advancing Pretrial Justice Initiative

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) continues to build upon prior work by conducting a court leadership survey to obtain the current national picture of pretrial reform efforts.  Survey results will be used to produce data visualizations to highlight judicial priorities and activities underway across the country. This will allow for a national picture of judicially led pretrial reforms and anticipated future directions.

Additionally, updates will be made to the Pretrial Justice Center for Courts with new resources such as the latest developments in pretrial legislation and court rules, state judicial committee and task force activities and deliverables, research on various pretrial services options and national standards, the latest developments in pretrial assessment, collection of data to support monitoring and evaluation activities and corresponding data governance issues, and other key resources and products for the state and local court community.

Reentry Mentor Training Project

The Massachusetts Administrative Office of the Trial Court is partnering with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to develop an effective reentry mentoring program for the Court. The project will enable the court to partner with community organizations to engage and train community mentors to support those returning from prison.  The Judiciary is working with the NCSC to create a training program that will allow mentors to successfully guide their changes through the reentry process. The NCSC is conducting a needs assessment survey with identified community partners and organizations to highlight the issues individuals face when transitioning from prison to the community, and how mentor training and a mentorship program could serve these individuals. The survey will also identify resources available in the community, particularly in the areas of housing, employment, addiction recovery, government documentation, and economic assistance. The NCSC and the Court will use this information to develop the training curriculum for mentors.  The NCSC is also developing an evaluation plan for the Court to survey community partners in the use of the curriculum, as well as determine its success in reducing recidivism in program participants.

Statewide Expungement and Legal Clinics Initiative

In rural Georgia, there are few attorneys providing legal services in rural communities. Some rural counties have no practicing attorneys, and residents must travel long distances to the nearest legal services office or private attorney.  The Georgia Administrative Office of the Courts has established a series of legal clinics in rural across the state to improve access to justice. The clinics serve self-represented litigants, primarily with expungements, but also family law and a variety of other issues.

Adult Probation Implementation of Assessment Recommendations

The Summit County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas partnered with the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) to implement the recommendations of the assessment conducted on the Adult Probation Department.  Project outcomes included: reorganization of staffing and workload to maximize performance; improved communication; increased access to staff training; and development of sanction and incentive systems to address non-compliance.

Pretrial Justice and the State Courts Initiative

The Pretrial Justice and the State Court Initiative is a collaboration between the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) and the Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI).  The Initiative helps 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. 

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.

Two resources are available that provide valuable insights on successful pretrial programs administered by state courts:

1.) Estimating the Costs of Implementing Pretrial Assessment and Monitoring Services: This brief highlights how courts and their criminal justice system partners can collaborate to estimate the costs of using an evidenced-based pretrial assessment and monitoring tools (both supervision-based and remote/electronic).  Examples from California, Kentucky, New Jersey, Yakima County in Washington, and St. Mary’s County in Maryland, are presented to show how both uniform statewide and jurisdiction-based programs have been planned, implemented, and reviewed.  The brief walks the reader through considerations to explore with stakeholders before moving forward in light of shared outcomes, efficiencies, and cost-benefit analysis.

2.) Pretrial Justice Planning Guide for Courts: This guide provides an in-depth analysis of the pretrial planning process that jurisdictions have or should embark on when working with partners using a multi-phase approach.  By breaking down the process into: 1) Guiding Questions; 2) Tasks and Worksheets; and, 3) Online Resources, the guide is meant to actively support the planning process after agreement that some pretrial program and service is needed, or a situation where the court is positioned as the lead to guide the process to redesign  and improve the existing pretrial program.

National Task Force on Fines, Fees, & Bail Practices

In 2016, the Conference of Chief Justices/Conference of State Court Administrators (CCJ/COSCA) established the National Task Force on Fines, Fees, and Bail Practices to develop recommendations and tools to promote the fair and efficient enforcement of the law; ensure no person is denied access to the justice system based on lack of economic resources; and, develop policies relating to legal financial obligations that promote access, fairness, and transparency.  SJI, along with the DOJ/Bureau of Justice Assistance, has provided grant funding to support the work of the Task Force.  The Task Force produced the Principles on Fines, Fees, and Bail Practices, in addition to numerous additional resources in the Resource Center.