The first baseline measurement of pretrial justice across the U.S. has found most states to be failing, with a few “promising” exceptions, according to a national advocacy group.
In a study released Wednesday by the Pretrial Justice Institute, authors measured the rates of pretrial detention, use of available risk assessment tools, and the status of money bail systems in every state.
“Needless” incarceration before trail is the primary cause for states’ failing grades: according to PJI’s findings, two thirds of the current U.S. jail population has not yet been to trail.
At the forefront of pretrial justice reform are Washington D.C., where 92 percent of those arrested are released pretrial and no one is detained for inability to pay; and New Jersey, which implemented statewide pretrial services earlier this year, resulting in a 15 percent reduction of pretrial detainees within the first six months.
The report also highlights legislative advances made by Alaska, Arizona, California, Indiana, Maryland, and New Mexico in the area of pretrial justice reform.
While the number of jurisdictions using risk assessment tools has more than doubled in the past four years, authors note that the increase is driven by “a few states and densely populated jurisdictions,” adding that “evidence-based pretrial assessments show that most people released before trial will appear in court and not be arrested on new charges pending trial.”
The study used money bail as its final measure because “financial conditions play such a large role in needlessly detaining people and giving us a false sense of safety,” according to the authors. New Jersey is the only state to have eliminated money bail, so this is where the U.S. pretrial justice score hovers closest to zero: only 3% of Americans live in a jurisdiction that has eliminated cash bail.
“As long as pretrial systems use money as a condition of pretrial release,” concludes the report, “poor and working class people will remain behind bars while those who are wealthy go home, regardless of their likelihood of pretrial success. This is a fundamental injustice.”
This summary was prepared by Victoria Mckenzie, Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.