Two Champions Look Back and Ahead

By Spike Bradford posted 12-20-2016 18:30


The new year affords us an opportunity to look back and ahead, to reflect and imagine. In 2017, PJI’s Board of Directors will welcome a new board chair—Chris Rodgers, a county commissioner from Douglas County, Nebraska. So, we asked outgoing chair Gary Raney and former vice chair Cliff Keenan—two pretrial champions who have given invaluable service to PJI as board leaders and advisors—to look back on their time with us and to think about the future of pretrial justice.

Cliff Keenan photo

Cliff Keenan, Director, Pretrial Service Agency for DC

Vice Chair, PJI Board of Directors, 2013-2015

I have to admit that working in the DC criminal justice system gave me a very skewed view of the pretrial process on the national level. DC has not used money bail in setting conditions of release for decades—I assumed most jurisdictions did the same.

Once I started with the Pretrial Services Agency for DC (PSA) and became more involved with the work of PJI, I came to realize how poorly our national pretrial system administers “justice” to persons who have been arrested for—yet not convicted of—criminal offenses. The injustice and disparity foisted upon these people, usually persons of color and those most in need of support, is staggering.

Now, great things are happening on a national level thanks in no small part to the work of PJI under the terrific leadership of Cherise Fanno Burdeen, Tim Murray before her, and the rest of PJI’s dedicated staff who strive every day to bring about necessary change wherever they can.

I am so proud to have been a part of this great institution during such a reformative period of time. I know Chris Rodgers, in taking over as PJI’s chair, will not allow the momentum that is in place to falter or slow. But we all need to provide whatever support we can to help in those efforts and I hope you will join me in staying active in this important work.

Gary Raney photo

Gary Raney, Sheriff (retired), Ada County, Idaho

Chair, PJI Board of Directors, 2014-2016

Pretrial reform will be the area with the most significant impact to the criminal justice system in the next five to ten years. The Pretrial Justice Institute deserves credit for being the organization in the trenches for the past 40 years, pushing the issue forward before it became popular. Since I’ve been involved in pretrial reform and with PJI these past few years, the issue has gone from being driven by a small circle of influencers to a worldwide network of changers. It’s exciting and rewarding work.  

As a law enforcement officer for over thirty years and a sheriff for ten, I saw the impact that jail had on low-risk defendants. It was popular to think, “Throw them in jail. That’ll teach them a lesson.” In fact, throwing them in jail did just the opposite. It made them lose their jobs, lose the ability to support their families, lose the ability to pay fines and fees and sometimes made them lose hope. I watched high-risk defendants with money get out while lower-risk defendants who made minimum income stayed in jail. This still happens, and it doesn’t make any more sense now than it did then.

The difference is that today we have more research and more smart people in the criminal justice system working for change. We know that three days in jail do count and we can make communities safer if we make sure people only stay in jail before trial if there’s a good and demonstrable reason.  

PJI has been the leader in this field and is now joined by many other organizations supporting effective and smart reform. States and localities, too, are pushing this issue forward and we’re seeing the movement build to a “tipping point” where it has unstoppable momentum.

I have been honored to be the board chair of PJI for the past three years. In that time we have accomplished a lot, but there is more to do. I am thankful to be turning over the organizational gavel to Chris Rodgers who will bring new connections, new ideas and real passion for change. His board is strong and the staff at PJI are unparalleled.

It is really cool to be a part of changing the world.