Nearly every jurisdiction in the United States uses money bail as a condition of pretrial release and as a covert form of pretrial detention. The system of money bail discriminates based on wealth, exacerbates racial disparities, results in over-incarceration, and imposes unnecessary costs on individuals and society at large.
The problems with money bail are well understood. But policymakers face considerable challenges in crafting policies that will reduce the role of money, promote pretrial release, and protect public safety. To help jurisdictions succeed with meaningful pretrial reforms, the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School developed Bail Reform: A Guide for State and Local Policymakers. The recommendations in this guide draw upon expert interviews, in-depth legal analysis, empirical research, and the practical experience of jurisdictions that have reformed their pretrial practices. Informed by this research, the guide is organized around five principles for pretrial reform:
1) Limit Pretrial Detention
2) Eliminate Money Bail
3) Tread Carefully with Risk Assessment Tools
4) Optimize Pretrial Services
5) Involve Stakeholders at Every Stage of Reform
In addition to an in-depth exploration of these five principles, the guide includes a model bill for pretrial procedures and case studies that examine the reform efforts of thirteen jurisdictions across the United States.
With widespread bipartisan support for bail reform, the time is now for state and local policymakers to implement meaningful pretrial policy change. This guide charts a path for jurisdictions that want to remove money from the system, lower pretrial detention rates, and safeguard the right to pretrial liberty without sacrificing effective court administration and public safety.