Jurisdictions across the United States are taking steps to reduce the number of people who are detained in jail unnecessarily while awaiting trial. In particular, they are seeking to reduce the use of cash bail as a mechanism to ensure court appearance. Many jurisdictions have introduced risk-assessment tools to inform release decisions and pretrial supervision programs to maintain court appearance rates. These reforms have the potential to reduce racial disparities, increase fairness, and reduce the role of the criminal justice system in perpetuating poverty in low-income communities. However, many of the jurisdictions that are instituting these reforms are “flying blind” because there is very little reliable evidence on their effectiveness, and these reforms may come with their own potential pitfalls that are not well understood.
A diverse group of eight jurisdictions from across the United States have teamed up with MDRC’s Center for Criminal Justice Research and Justice System Partners (JSP) to form the Pretrial Justice Collaborative. The goal of the Collaborative is to build and disseminate reliable, usable evidence about the most effective strategies for reducing pretrial detention, minimizing conditions of supervision while cases are adjudicated, and reducing racial and economic disparities, while maintaining court appearance rates and public safety.
The MDRC-JSP team will start by working with each jurisdiction to analyze its existing pretrial practices, conducting a process study and an analysis of outcomes such as arrests, release conditions, court appearance rates, and new criminal charges overall and for subpopulations of interest. A subset of the jurisdictions will advance to a second tier of research that includes rigorous impact studies comparing the efficacy of specific pretrial supervision approaches, with a focus on court appearance rates.