Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bail -- Where Do I Start?

Where do I begin if I'm thinking about making improvements to bail? What do I read if I see a bill in the upcoming legislative session that seems to be taking my state backward in terms of pretrial justice? They're good questions, and questions that I and the National Institute of Corrections felt should be answered.

We answered the questions with two documents -- Fundamentals of Bail: A Resource Guide for Pretrial Practitioners and a Framework for American Pretrial Reform -- and Money as a Criminal Justice Stakeholder: The Judge's Decision to Release or Detain a Defendant Pretrial. You can get them either through the NIC library or by going to the following link on my website:, and then click on the tabs for either "Fundamentals of Bail" or "Money as a Criminal Justice Stakeholder."

The Fundamentals document is precisely what the title says it is. First, it's a resource guide, and you'll find more than enough sources and resources in that single document (current to about August of this year) to help you find your way in each knowledge area, including (1) why we need pretrial reform, (2) the history of bail, (3) the legal foundations underlying bail, (4) the pretrial research, (5) the national standards, and (6) the terms and phrases used at bail. Second, it's a new framework for looking at things, and is designed to get everyone on the same page so that they can make improvements to the pretrial process that are purposeful, lawful, and effective. This document was written so that anyone interested in pretrial justice -- from line pretrial or police officers to governors or legislators -- can read it, and it's designed to be one of the first things one reads when considering pretrial improvements.

Although other people will benefit from reading the Money document, that piece should specifically be given to judges. Basically, it says that once they know the fundamentals of bail, judges following the legal and evidence-based practices discerned through those fundamentals must make an in-or-out decision in every case, with nothing (including money or poor laws) standing in the way of effectuating the decision. It then cites to the most current research that helps judges do precisely that. The paper has a few more footnotes, quotes, and other stuff that judges like to see if they are considering changing practices, and so it's not quite as easy to read as the first one, but hey -- it's shorter!

By the way, the papers are compatible with and run parallel to other important learning modules, such as the National Judicial College's Pretrial Curriculum, and the NIC's Orientation for New Pretrial Executives. In addition, you will see a strong correlation between the concepts in these papers with the new electronic glossary published on the Pretrial Justice Institute's website in the last week. That's on purpose.

As I say in the papers, pretrial justice is like sharing a book -- it helps to be on the same page. These documents are designed to do just that.

Make sure you have the most current version -- it has a couple changes that we made in the last week or so. You'll know it's current by the dates in the web address, including November 5, 2014 and September 8, 2014.  Happy reading!