Last week, U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Rand Paul introduced SB 1539, the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017, which encourages states to move away from money bond and ensure they are using legal and evidence-based pretrial justice practices. We were delighted to have been able to support the drafters of this bill and to work with partner organizations to gather up support. This is a bipartisan effort, sponsored by two senators with pretrial justice wins at home—California is poised to pass sweeping legislation (Assembly Bill 42 and Senate Bill 10) and Kentucky was the first state to deploy the Arnold Foundation’s Public Safety Assessment statewide.
Why does it matter if Congress weighs in on bail reform? Isn’t bail a state and local function?
It matters. Having started my career at the Justice Department in the mid-1990s, I know firsthand that nearly every major criminal justice reform of the last 40 years has been the result of the federal government assuming the risk of innovation for state and local systems. Drug courts, mental health courts, veterans courts, drug testing technology, bullet resistant vests, and so forth—all were spread beyond any original pilot sites by federal assumption of risk to change, risk to try, and political risk of failure.
This is an important function of the federal government and, with a $10 million investment in pretrial justice to the number of states science shows it takes to create a tipping point, this small federal investment has the potential to save billions in state and local revenue. Also, public safety is nationwide concern, and it is time to stop pretending money bond—or jail for people for whom just a few days raises their future criminality chances—does anything to make anyone any safer. It’s time we stop sanctioning a sham money bail system that benefits only a few special interests.
The leadership shown by Senators Harris and Paul was the icing on the July cake, as the movement for pretrial justice in America kept us aglow with news accounts that only 10 years ago would have been considered miracles too big to hope for. New Jersey’s bail reform soaring on PBS and Planet Money; the announcement of the Art for Justice Fund; the court ruling on the Harris County, Texas case.… Any one of these would have been cause for celebration. Together, they are nothing short of mind blowing.
We are going to use August to get ready. With the opportunities now before us, it is time to report to training camp. 2018 is our year for the super bowl of pretrial justice. How are you getting ready?