Who's Afraid of Pretrial Reform?

By Wendy Shang posted 11-01-2018 12:35


With Messaging Month on the University of Pretrial nearly over, we decided to take the occasion of Halloween to discuss some of the scary language that some people use to stall, or even to reverse, pretrial reform. First, we will shine a light on these terms. Then we’ll talk about what we find truly horrifying.

  • “Black box algorithm” is a popular term, making pretrial assessments seem mysterious and inaccessible. Here’s the thing, though: not all assessments are created equal. The best pretrial assessments—and the only ones that courts should use—are transparent and publicly available. Properly implemented pretrial assessments have helped demonstrate, in places like Yakima County, Wash., that pretrial release is the most commonsense option and that reduced rates of pretrial detention do not change public safety or court appearance rates.

  • RIP “Risk”! We know from statistical studies that the overwhelming number of arrested people are likely to succeed while awaiting trial: They make their court dates and are not arrested on new charges. That’s why there’s no “risk” in PJI’s preferred term, pretrial assessments.

Here’s what actually keeps us awake at night:

  • The criminal justice system is the nation’s largest provider of mental health services. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, in 44 states, a jail or prison holds more mentally ill individuals than the largest remaining state psychiatric hospital. We can and must do better. Many jurisdictions are empowering law enforcement and other justice system stakeholders to deflect people with mental health needs away from the criminal justice system and to connect them with services.

Pretrial reform doesn’t have to be scary. Resources like PJI and the University of Pretrial, an online community where pretrial stakeholders, experts, and knowledge come together, seek to remove the unknowns and shine light into darkened corners. If you know someone who needs reassurance about pretrial reform, send them our way.