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Our Journey Toward Pretrial Justice

NCJ Number
Federal Probation Volume: 71 Issue: 2 Dated: September 2007 Pages: 20-25
Marie VanNostrand Ph.D.; Gena Keebler
Date Published
September 2007
6 pages
In assessing progress toward pretrial justice in the Federal system, this paper addresses bail policy and practice, the rights of accused persons awaiting trial, the role of pretrial services, and strategies for improving progress in pretrial justice.
After considering Federal and State court system data for the past 10-15 years, this paper concludes that in the United States liberty prior to trial, when innocence remains assumed, is not the norm for accused persons. In the Federal system, 61 percent of charged persons are detained. In the State court systems, 38 percent of accused persons are detained, with nearly two-thirds of jail inmates awaiting trial. A key strategy for reversing this trend involves the education of both criminal justice professionals and citizens in the nature of pretrial justice. They must be informed about the rights of accused persons pending trial and the true purpose of bail. A promising development is the Pretrial Services Legal and Evidence Based Practices (LEBP). LEBP is defined as interventions and practices that are consistent with the legal and constitutional rights afforded to accused persons awaiting trial. It relies on methods that research has proven to be effective in decreasing failures to appear in court and danger to the community from charged persons who are free in the community prior to any official determination of guilt. Research has identified the use of an objective and research-based risk assessment instrument as a critical tool for achieving pretrial justice. The results of the risk-assessment screening with such an instrument should be used to formulate a bail recommendation. The bail recommendation should include the least restrictive terms and conditions that will reasonably ensure that a defendant will appear for court hearings and not pose a danger to the community if released while awaiting trial. 4 figures and 15 notes