Jurisdictions across the United States are taking steps to reduce the number of people who are detained in jail unnecessarily while awaiting trial. These reforms include the use of risk-assessment tools to inform release decisions and supervision programs during the pretrial period (before a case is adjudicated) to maintain court appearance and arrest avoidance. Such reforms hold the potential to reduce racial disparities and increase fairness in the pretrial process, by reducing the disproportionate negative impact of traditional cash bail systems on individuals and communities. However, many jurisdictions that are instituting these reforms are “flying blind” because there is little reliable evidence on their effectiveness or potential tradeoffs in terms of public safety or the legitimacy of the court process.
A diverse group of eight jurisdictions from across the United States have joined 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 has worked with each jurisdiction to conduct a process study and understand their pretrial practices and to conduct a descriptive analysis of trends during the pretrial period, including rates of arrest, release conditions, court appearance, and arrest avoidance. A subset of the jurisdictions is participating in additional research, including rigorous impact studies to compare the efficacy of specific pretrial supervision approaches and an analysis of the biases and mechanisms that contribute to racial/ethnic disparities throughout the case processing pipeline.