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Pretrial Justice: How to Maximize Public Safety, Court Appearance and Release [Internet Broadcast]

“The history of bail and the law intertwined with [this] history tell us that the three goals underlying the bail process are to maximize release while simultaneously maximizing court appearance and public safety.” -- Timothy R. Schnacke, Fundamentals of Bail

Courts in the United States process millions of criminal cases annually. Each requires a judicial officer to determine the conditions of a defendant’s release pending adjudication-bail. Bail determination is one of the most important decisions in the criminal case processing, designated as a “critical stage” by the United States Supreme Court where liberty and due process interests are paramount. Justice systems that administer bail effectively have as their overarching goals assuring a defendant’s return to court and safeguarding the community. To help balance the individual’s right to reasonable bail with the public’s expectation of safety, these systems assess the likelihood of missed court appearances or new criminal activity using factors shown by research to be related to pretrial misconduct and provide supervision designed to address these risks. Moreover, these systems give judicial officers clear, legal options for appropriate pretrial release and detention decisions. As a result, unnecessary pretrial detention is minimized, public safety is enhanced and, most significantly, the pretrial release process is administered fairly.

Unfortunately, most local justice systems lack truly effective bail decision making components. Most judicial officers do not receive the information needed in bail setting to make the best decisions about release and detention, nor do they have a full statutory gamut of release and detention options to address the varying levels of risk found within the defendant population. Even when options exist, most systems lack the structure to monitor released defendants, to regularly screen detained defendants for release eligibility, or to safeguard individual rights and community safety.

The shortcomings of the current bail system have made bail reform part of the larger national discussion on improving America’s criminal justice systems. For most justice systems in America, achieving true bail reform will mean going beyond technical changes to a deeper and more holistic change in culture and attitudes about the concept of pretrial release; the rights of pretrial defendants; and what is truly needed to reasonably assure future court appearance and community safety. In order to achieve meaningful bail reform, all elements of an effective pretrial justice system must be defined and in place.

During the broadcast presenters will: Define the framework for developing a high functioning pretrial justice system; Discuss the importance of bail history and the legal processes underlying it; Identify the essential elements of a legal and evidence based pretrial justice system; Identify the importance of the criminal justice system to support a legal and evidenced based pretrial services agency; and Discuss the differences between technical and adaptive change within organizations and the effects on implementation.

This broadcast will answer the following questions: What is the roadmap to pretrial justice reform? Where do we begin? What is the history of bail reform, and why is it important to your work today? What are the essential elements of a high functioning pretrial system? What outcomes could you expect from collaboration among pretrial justice stakeholders? What changes are needed to become a high functioning pretrial justice system? Have you ever asked the question “What are the benefits of developing a pretrial agency?”


    This segment introduces pretrial justice services and provides a brief overview of the current policies and issues. The broadcast presenters are introduced. The segment concludes with a statement from Eric Holder, the former US Attorney General.

    Segment 1 - Why Pretrial Justice? Why Now?

      This segment presents some of the reasons pretrial justice reform is needed. The NIC's Framework for Pretrial Justice including the Essential Elements: Law, Standards, Evidence-based Practices, and Organizational Theory, and the concept of the Three Ms: Maximize Release, Maximize Appearance, Maximize Public Safety are introduced.

      Segment 2 - Bail History and the Law

        This segment discusses the history of bail as well as the legal principles behind bail. The five foundational legal principles behind bail are discussed. They are presumption of innocence, right to bail, right to non-excessive bail, right to due process, and the right to equal protection. Relevant case law is discussed - Stack v. Boyle (1951) and United States v. Salerno (1987).

        Segment 3 - High Functioning Pretrial System

          This segment presents the eight elements of a pretrial system. The importance of risk assessment, release options, collaboration, and a dedicated Pretrial Services Agency are a few of the elements discussed. The concept of Evidenced-Based Decision Making (EBDM) is defined, and the four principles of EBDM are presented.

          Segment 4 - Essential Elements of a Pretrial Agency

            This segment begins with a discussion on the importance of a single dedicated pretrial services agency. Next an explanation of the six essential elements of an effective pretrial agency are discussed. The six elements are having a dedicated pretrial function, using universal screening, using a validated pretrial risk assessment, sequential bail review, risk-based supervision,and performance measurement and feedback. The segment closes with a question and answer session, and comments from the field regarding development of a pretrial program and how a technical assistance provider can provide direction to helpful resources, tools, policies and research.

            Segment 5 - Resources and Next Steps

            This final segment identifies resources available through NIC. It also includes closing remarks from the presenters highlighting the important components of a high-functioning pretrial system and agency.