Arnold Ventures Pledges $39M to Reform ‘Broken’ Pretrial System

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Illustration by Chris Potter at via Flickr

A national effort to raise public attention and develop new initiatives to reform  America’s “broken and costly pretrial justice system” will be kickstarted with $39 million in grants,  Arnold Ventures announced Tuesday.

“Equitable pretrial decision-making is at the forefront of America’s consciousness,” said Kelli Rhee, President and CEO of the Houston-based organization, formerly known as the Laura and Jay Arnold Foundation.

In a press statement accompanying the announcement, Arnold Ventures said it hoped the effort would serve as a “catalytic force that ensures all people have access to their legal and human rights in our criminal justice system.”

The effort will be led by the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice, which was described as a “collective” of more than 30 research, technical assistance, policy, and advocacy organizations around the country.

According to the statement, the partnership reflects a “new community of practice aimed at reforming America’s broken and costly pretrial justice system.”

The new Arnold Venture grants will bring to more than $48 million the support provided by the organization since 2011 to developing new initiatives in pretrial justice reform.

Some 400 counties in 35 states have already received grants to explore innovative strategies such as pretrial risk assessment tools, which provide judges with evidence-based information that can help them determine when and whether to release  offenders before trial, or to divert them into alternative courts.

“The presumption of innocence is a core American value that is too often suppressed or ignored in our pretrial justice system,” Jeremy Travis, Executive Vice President of Criminal Justice at Arnold Ventures, said in the release.

“Every year, far too many Americans are locked up in jails simply because they can’t pay for their freedom.”

He added that “too often, efforts to find solutions are either siloed or contentious in ways that impede reform.”

“We want to break down the barriers that have fragmented well-meaning advocacy to build a thoughtful, research-driven community with shared goals and values,” Travis continued.

The national partnership program already envisions supporting a number of projects planned by participating members:

  • The Center for Effective Public Policy will provide training and implementation assistance to support pretrial improvements in up to ten Research-Action Sites over five years;
  • Research Triangle International and Stanford University will 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 whether racial disparities exist in data-driven risk assessment models and, if so, addresses ways to reduce those disparities.

Other partners include: the Vera Institute of Justice, which will create a rural jails research and policy network through two university-based hubs to better understand drivers of rural jail growth; the New York City Criminal Justice Agency, which is investigating the impact of pretrial detention on different defendant populations in New York City; and the National Center for State Courts, which is conducting research, establishing benchmarks, and providing guidance to state courts about how best to improve the efficiency of criminal case processing.

Also: the RAND Corporation will conduct a randomized controlled trial in Allegheny County, Pa., 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 and, in particular, work to identify potential areas for future data collection.

As part of the launch of the National Partnership, Arnold Ventures also released its first Statement of Principles on Pretrial Justice, which it described as a “grounding document” to guide its pretrial grant investments.

The principles include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Only people charged with the most serious offenses should be eligible for pretrial detention;
  • Money bail “obscures legally-required risk analyses, traps people in jail, and contributes to unconscionable racial and economic disparities in the U.S. justice system”;
  • “Objective and consistent” judicial decisions can benefit from a variety of new tools, such as validated pretrial risk assessments, that can provide justicve-involved individuals with alternatives to incarceration.

Rural justice systems will be one of the primary focuses of the work.

According to research published by the Vera Institute, one of the partners, even while jail and prison populations are declining around the country, rural jails have experienced a spike in incarcerated individuals.

For additional reading, see stories and resources compiled by John Jay’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice following a conference earlier this year on the “rural justice crisis.”

Editor’s Note: Arnold Ventures is a supporter of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice Fellowship program for journalists on the impact of fines and fees on the justice-involved individuals.

More information on the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice is available here.

One thought on “Arnold Ventures Pledges $39M to Reform ‘Broken’ Pretrial System

  1. My frustration is having thoroughly read all of the evidence-based research on this topic for years, leading to our actually inventing a breakthrough evidence-based technology and community engagement methodology built upon a cost-savings model and serving as a clear pathway to bail reform and recudivism reduction among high and moderate risk offenders, without any means of accessing anyone within your network of solutions to showcase what a small group of IP attorneys, a major university and SBA executives have seen and been in awe of. When solutions are being solicited, there should ideally be some sure gate-keeper who can usher solutions into that network.

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