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Modern Methods Help Judges Solve an Old Problem

What do a newborn infant, a shortstop, and a television have in common? The answer: we can accurately predict how each will perform, because we have supplemented our own intuition with something more concrete: consistent, objective data. The Apgar Test is far better at identifying babies in distress than doctors with years of experience. The book Moneyball famously captured how a baseball player's stats could out-predict a seasoned scout. And we all gather data on electronics before making a major […]


State Report Slams NJ’s ‘Unscrupulous’ Bail-Bond Industry

The bail?bond industry in New Jersey is “highly prone to subversion by unscrupulous and improper practices,” according to a state investigation released last week. Among the questionable practices highlighted in the New Jersey Commission of Investigation report was widespread use of hired jailed “runners” to generate business among the incarcerated. The Commission found instances in which “unlicensed individuals, some with extensive criminal records”, operated bail-bond agencies. Illegal operators included who had previously forfeited their licenses for engaging in illegal bail-bond […]


The Consequences of Pretrial Detention

Extended pretrial detention correlates longer sentences, increased criminal activity after cases are over, and a decreased likelihood that defendants will return to court, according to a series of studies released recently by the non-profit Laura and John Arnold Foundation. One study of court data found that defendants held for the entire pretrial period were four times more likely to be sentenced to jail and three times more likely to be sentenced to prison; the jail sentences were three times longer […]


Study: Bail Helps Pack New Jersey’s Jails

New Jersey's county jails are crammed with people who have the option to post bail, but can't afford to, according to a recently published study by the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group, and justice system consulting firm Luminosity. Researchers examined county corrections data from 19 New Jersey counties and found that, of the state's 15,000-person jail population, nearly 40 percent are incarcerated solely because they cannot afford bail. About 12 percent could secure release with $2,500 or less, according […]


The Bail Industry’s Digital Rival

New electronic monitoring technologies have the potential to significantly decrease the financial burden of bail on both defendants and states, according to a recently published paper by Florida State University Assistant Professor Samuel Wiseman. But first, he argues in the paper, the judiciary has to subdue the bail industry. Because electronic monitoring allows defendants to be easily located and limits the need to detain them at state expense, it can reduce both fugitive rates and government expenditures. However, neither legislative […]


Re-Thinking Bail

On Valentine’s Day, South African Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp four times through a bathroom door, killing her. The police arrested Pistorius almost immediately and charged him with murder. Within a week, a tremendous amount of information about the events of that night was revealed in court. Evidence was presented, witnesses testified, theories were posited and statements were read. What makes these events unusual is that they occurred during a bail hearing. When someone is arrested […]


Chasing Gideon

Today marks the 50th anniversary of a Supreme Court ruling that changed the face of American justice. On March 18, 1963, the Court ruled, in Gideon v. Wainright, that every American was constitutionally entitled to a lawyer in a criminal trial, regardless of his or her ability to pay. Nevertheless, underfunded public defense systems and questionable practices in many states still throw up obstacles to fulfilling the promise of Gideon for thousands of poor Americans every year. Baltimore journalist Karen […]


When You Can't Afford Bail

Karen Emberton spent 44 days in McLean County jail before she could argue why she didn't belong there. Charged with the low-level felony of filing a false police report, Emberton, 51, couldn't afford $325 bail or legal assistance. She was one of many inmates whose cases have aroused concern that local jails in this southern Illinois county are overcrowded with accused individuals awaiting trial on minor offenses, often for longer than the average 30-day stay. Edith Brady-Lunny, a crime reporter […]