MDRC evaluates reforms to the criminal legal system—from arrest and the pretrial period through the reentry process for returning citizens and parole— to reduce unnecessary incarceration, support public safety, lessen racial and economic inequities, improve the lives of the people and communities most impacted, and diminish the role of the system in perpetuating poverty.

The Latest

In 2016, New York City rolled out Supervised Release, which allowed judges to release defendants under supervision instead of setting bail. The findings in this report suggest that the program reduced the number of defendants detained in jail, while at the same time maintaining court appearance rates and public safety.


Pretrial release and detention decisions for defendants are increasingly guided by risk assessments guided by data, which are intended to counteract biases but have the potential to introduce new biases and perpetuate racial disparities. This research brief describes the approach taken by MDRC to understand, assess, and address these biases.

Key Documents
Issue Focus

Improving Outcomes for Clients While Helping Systems Further Their Missions

This issue focus describes how MDRC is helping administrators in criminal justice and child support enforcement test innovative reforms to improve the way their systems interact with low-income people, particularly men of color. 


An Alternative to Bail

Defendants awaiting trial and unable to post bail are often detained in local jails unnecessarily, disrupting their lives and adding to costs for taxpayers. To address this situation, New York City has launched a program that gives judges the option to release some defendants to community-based supervision. 


Findings from the Changing Attitudes and Motivation in Parolees Pilot Study

A training program for parole officers in Dallas, Denver, and Des Moines sought to address the persistently high recidivism rates among individuals leaving prison. This study’s results show that officers generally already knew many of the curriculum’s concepts, and changes to their practices were limited.