Study Conducted by Prison Policy Initiative Finds ‘Releasing People Pretrial Doesn’t Harm Public Safety’

Via Pxfuel

By Caleigh Carlisle

NORTHAMPTON, MA ‒ A study conducted by the Prison Policy Initiative, a non-profit organization advocating to end mass criminalization, found “releasing people pretrial doesn’t harm public safety.”

The study examined data collected from four states along with nine cities and counties, all of which saw decreases or inconsequential increases after implementing pretrial reforms.

According to the PPI, approximately 83 percent of people held in jails nationwide are legally innocent and awaiting trial. The majority of these are individuals who are unable to pay bail. Over the past three decades, “increased arrests and a growing reliance on money bail… have contributed to a significant rise in pretrial detention.”

Previous research conducted by the PPI concluded that any time spent in pretrial detention can have harmful effects on a person’s “employment, housing, financial stability, and family wellbeing,” and can increase the chance of a person being rearrested in the future, which is counterproductive to public safety.

The study analyzed data from four states: New Jersey, New Mexico, Kentucky and New York. The introduction of pretrial reforms in each state led to decreased jail populations and lower criminal activity rates for all.

PPI said that in 2017, the New Jersey state legislature implemented a risk-informed approach to pretrial release while almost completely eliminating cash bail. Because of this, the pretrial population decreased 50 percent from 2015 to 2018 and is now currently 25 percent below 2015 rates.

Additionally, the study reported that the criminal activity rate, or the number of people released pretrial who are charged with committing a new crime, only increased by one percentage point, from 12.7 percent to 13.7 percent.

According to the PPI, New Jersey also saw “rates of violent crime [fall] between 2016-2018; homicides fell by 32 percent while rapes, robberies, assaults, burglaries and thefts all fell by double-digit percentages.”

In 2016, a voter-approved constitutional amendment.in New Mexico prohibited judges from imposing exorbitant bail, allowed accused to request relief from the requirement to post bond, and enabled the release of many low-risk accused, said PPI, adding after the reforms took place, statewide crime rates decreased and the criminal activity rate decreased by nearly 10 percent.

Cities and counties have also experienced great success with pretrial reforms, said PPI, noting, San Francisco has used a validated risk assessment tool since 2016 and has worked with many organizations such as the San Francisco Pretrial Diversion Project to offer support to people navigating the prison system.

According to the PPI, the Project has helped to reduce the jail population by 47 percent while the criminal activity rate has dropped to 10 percent.

For a brief period, San Francisco had also eliminated cash bail. During this time, the city’s violent crime rate fell by over 15 percent while the national crime rate increased by five percent, as reported by the PPI.

The study also examined Washington, D.C., where the risk assessment tool has been used since 1967. In the District, “judges cannot set money bail that results in someone’s pretrial detention, there are limits to the amount of time people can spend in jail after their arrest, and the Pretrial Services Agency can connect people to employment, housing, and general social services resources.”

According to the PPI, over 90 percent of arrestees are released without a financial bond, and in 2022, 93 percent of people were not re-arrested when released pretrial.

The study concluded by arguing that “states and counties should build on these pretrial reforms. More progress can be made to continue reducing the number of people held pretrial,” and as seen by the success in many states and cities, “these reforms are a step in the right direction.”

About The Author

Caleigh is a junior at Davis Senior High School. She enjoys playing her violin and learning different languages. Caleigh is currently exploring an interest in journalism and social justice.

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