Report: Arizona earns ‘B’ in pretrial justice

Mohave County Court House

Miner/file

Mohave County Court House

KINGMAN – The state of Arizona received a “B” grade in a study on pretrial justice system in America that showed one-third of states failing and several showing promise of reform.

The report released in November by the Pretrial Justice Institute examines the phases of the criminal justice system from initial contact with law enforcement to the resolution of charges through a plea, trial or dismissal – at the state level and for the nation as a whole.

The report details an alarming state of pretrial justice:

• The nation as a whole received a “D” grade. Nearly two-thirds of the U.S. jail population has not yet been to trial, and only one in four Americans lives in a jurisdiction that uses a validated evidence-based pretrial assessment meant to guide discretion and reduce bias.

• Over one-third of states received a failing grade due to high rates of unnecessary pretrial detention and failure to implement evidence-based tools to guide decisions about who goes to jail before trial.

• Only one state, New Jersey, earned an “A” grade – New Jersey effectively eliminated money bail at the beginning of 2017.

“The main cause of these poor grades is that too many women and men are being incarcerated needlessly before trial,” the report’s executive summary states. “Research shows, and the law requires, that the vast majority of people in the pretrial phase should not be detained and should be released under the least restrictive of conditions.”

There is cause for hope, though. The report highlights several states, including Arizona, where significant pretrial improvements seem to be on the horizon as more jurisdictions begin to move away from using money bond to make decisions about pretrial release.

The PJI report grades states based on three measures: per capita rate of people held in pretrial detention; how widely evidence-based pretrial assessment is used in each state; and the functional elimination of money bond.

The third metric is vital to grading a state’s pretrial justice system because, as the report reads, “[a]s long as pretrial systems use money as a condition of pretrial release, poor and working class people will remain behind bars while those who are wealthy go home, regardless of their likelihood of pretrial success.”

Research shows many of these men and women could be safely released before their trial, but instead remain behind bars solely because they cannot afford money bond.

The report calls for replacing money bail with the use of evidence-based pretrial assessments that can help courts more accurately identify those individuals who merit admission to jail before trial because they pose an unmanageable risk to the community.

“Already, great strides are being taken by courageous stakeholders across the country,” the report concluded. “When those strides result in maximized liberty, maximized safety, and maximized appearance in court without methods that cause harm, grades will improve and a new national standard of pretrial justice will emerge.”