Pretrial Justice Reform - An Effective Alternative for Incarceration

Richmond, Va. – People who cannot afford to post bail often remain in jail until their cases are resolved, while those with greater access to financial resources are able to secure liberty. But wealth does not determine risk, which is why national-, state-, and county-level entities are beginning to look at alternatives to incarceration for individuals accused of a crime but not yet sentenced.

In a 2019 survey of 89 counties and two independent cities, representing jurisdictions of high, medium, and low densities, the Pretrial Justice Institute explored the nature of changes in pretrial justice across the country and how those changes matched up with legal principles and evidence-based practices. They found that “Court reminder systems are an example of an effective strategy that promotes the goal of court appearance and respects the principle of least restrictive conditions.” Many court systems made efforts to respond to behavioral health needs, so individuals did not end up in the criminal justice system at all, and 46% of programs report focusing specifically on substance use needs.

However, half of counties in the survey use pretrial assessment tools to set monetary bond, reinforcing money as the key factor in release. “A few days behind bars can disrupt and destabilize a person’s life,” said Pat Bohn, director of North Dakota’s Parole and Probation Division. Across the country, a quarter of people entering prison in 2017 were not imprisoned for a new crime, but rather for a technical violation such as a missed probation or treatment appointment or a positive drug test.

Implementing evidence-based practices, such as risk-based assessments, daily check-ins, random scheduling, and reinforcement into a program can be a huge help in managing nearly all these issues. Particularly in the case of substance use disorder, daily engagement and real-time analytics, coupled with frequent, random drug testing and rotation of panels, are critical in assisting community supervision. Knowing that an individual may be likely to relapse before that happens, can keep them out of jail and on the path of recovery.


For more information:

Dura, J. (2019, October 1). North Dakota Pretrial Services Pilot Project Moves Ahead. Grand Forks Herald. Retrieved from

Muhammad, D. and Schiraldi, V. (2019, September 30). How to End the Era of Mass Supervision. The Chronicle of Social Change. Retrieved from

Pretrial Justice Institute. (2019). Scan of Pretrial Practices. Retrieved from