Pretrial Justice Reform

The NCJA advocates for effective criminal justice policy and funding for justice assistance programs.

Pretrial Justice

The current system of bail in most U.S. jurisdictions is fundamentally incapable of doing the job we expect from it. It is dangerous, outdated, unfair and expensive, costing taxpayers more than $9 billion each year without doing enough to protect public safety. In many jurisdictions, the decision to release or detain defendants pending trial is based almost exclusively on the criminal charge(s) and the suspect's ability to meet financial conditions. The focus on money as a mechanism for pretrial release means defendants’ often are not properly screened for more rational measures of public safety. Those who pose a danger to public safety can simply purchase their freedom while those who cannot afford money bail remain in jail, regardless of risk for pretrial misconduct, or presumption of innocence.

A key function of a pretrial program is to provide information to aid the court in determining a defendant’s risk to public safety and likelihood to appear in court if released pending trial. Jurisdictions must use an objective, validated risk assessment to score defendants' risk for pretrial misconduct if released pending trial. This risk assessment should be used to inform the decision to release or detain a defendant pretrial, and under what conditions. This system delivers on the purpose of our bail system – to protect public safety and assure appearance in court.

Implementation Guide

The NCJA Center for Justice Planning, in cooperation with the Public Welfare Foundation, developed a pretrial implementation guide for justice planners and policymakers in all levels of government.The implementation guide contains information about: 

  • Information and data needed to implement and evaluate pretrial programs;
  • The legal foundation and historical framework for pretrial reform;
  • Key questions to consider when mapping pretrial decision-making in your state;
  • National pretrial standards;
  • Data, data systems, and research partners;
  • Performance, outcome and mission-critical measures;
  • Pretrial risk assessment instruments, manuals, and validation studies;
  • The universal risk assessment tool developed by the Arnold Foundation;
  • Pretrial supervision, monitoring, and diversion program assessments;
  • Potential challenges to implementation;
  • Training and technical assistance providers; and
  • Helpful resources from national organizations.

Regional Meetings

In early summer 2016, the NCJP convened  pretrial justice practitioners and subject matter experts for three region meetings - held in Nashville, Baltimore and Scottsdale - to discussion the state of pretrial justice reform in the United States, implementation policies and practices in local jurisdictions, and the science behind risk assessment. Specifically, these meetings addressed:

  • The national perspective;
  • The state policymaker perspective;
  • Bail and its implications in pretrial reform;
  • The science involved in risk assessment;
  • Regional and national initiatives;
  • Pretrial planning teams;
  • Lessons learned from juvenile justice reform;
  • Technology and its use in pretrial decision-making; and
  • The role of crime victims.

Presentations and handouts from the three meetings are also available on the NCJP website. Learn more about these meetings.