Monday, May 9, 2011

ABA Proposes Pre-Trial Detention Reform

The American Bar Association (ABA) is proposing pre-trial detention reform that could save state and local municipalities millions of dollars. The ABA web site provides an overview of the problem and a model program in Kentucky dealing with coslty pre-trial detention.

Pre-trial release reform is part of a criminal justice reform effort by the ABA aimed at changing laws and practices on not only pre-trial release but also decriminalization of minor offenses, prisoner re-entry, increased use of parole and probation, and community corrections in 10 states. The program will operate in California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont.

In addressing pre-trial release the ABA writes, according to the United States Department of Justice, over 500,000 men and women sit in jail awaiting trial. Two-thirds of these people are low bail risk, meaning they have been deemed by a magistrate to pose no significant risk to themselves or the community, as well as representing a low risk of flight. Often, these inmates will sit in jail for over a year before standing trial. While these non-violent offenders are in jail, taxpayers provide them with food, clothing, healthcare, and security – last year alone the United States spent $9 billion on services for those who could not afford bail.

With the development of better tools, methods, and technologies to supervise non-violent offenders, states will be able to save money on pretrial detention and reduce risk to the community. Those who pose the lowest risk can be identified, released before trial, and then appropriately monitored and supported so they do not become a risk. Under these narrow circumstances, not only do taxpayers save money, but the community is not put in danger.

Although community safety and risk of flight are key components of a pre-trial detention determination, two thirds of the 500,000 individuals sitting in jail before trial are low bail risk – identified as posing no significant risk to themselves or the community with a likelihood of reappearance at subsequent court dates. Proper identification and release of low risk individuals to supervision programs or on their own recognizance will decrease the costs associated with operating detention facilities and housing detainees and reduce the collateral consequences of confinement such as job loss,inability to pay child support, eviction and potential immigration consequences.

Kentucky's model program provides for state pre-trial diversion officers who are trained to be neutral in all decisions regarding treatment. The state’s program has 256 employees and provides investigation and supervision services in all 120 counties in the state. Diversion provides selected individuals with non-punitive case processing if they satisfy certain conditions of release. The program is designed to help an individual before he or she develops long-term destructive behavior and is entirely voluntary, although the district judge and county attorney must approve all participants. If a participant successfully completes the program, the charges are dismissed with prejudice, and the individual avoids the stigma of a criminal record.

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