The Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) began over 40 years ago as the sole U.S. organization dedicated exclusively to pretrial system reform. While their expertise is grounded in working with the system “insiders” — judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and others — they have realized that powerful and sustained reforms must come from the people who have been the most deeply harmed by the criminal justice system, usually Black and Latinx communities. Today, PJI serves as a bridge between system actors, who historically hold the power in the legal system, and community members, who have a vision for justice and well-being, to co-create places where all people feel safe, respected, and able to thrive.
Their latest publication — What If? 10 Questions for Sparking Local Pretrial Change — invites readers to imagine a pretrial system guided by equity and shared values, where people have many opportunities to remain safely in the community and few roads to incarceration. A system that prioritizes support over supervision — and demands liberty as the norm.
We were joined by the co-leaders of PJI, Meghan Guevara and Tenille Patterson, to learn more about the mission of Pretrial Justice Institute, the What If? campaign, and lessons from communities around the country who are working to bring about alternatives to our current bail and jail system.
Links to resources mentioned during the event
For critical perspectives from data scientists on the technical flaws and embedded racial bias of risk assessment tools, see: https://www.media.mit.edu/posts/algorithmic-risk-assessment/
For a guide for organizers on risk assessment tools, see this guide by Community Justice Exchange: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/60db97fe88031352b829d032/t/60dcd6e6ac9dae69c2243313/1625085675244/CJE_PretrialRATGuide_FinalDec2019Version.pdf
For recent research on the community safety benefits on non-prosecution of misdemeanors, see links here: https://www.hks.harvard.edu/centers/wiener/programs/criminaljustice/projects/prosecuting-nonviolent-misdemeanors
A DOJ report released last week noted the profound undercounting of in-custody deaths, in jails and in police custody in particular: "Since October 2019, the DOJ has missed at least 18 percent of all deaths in state prisons, 39 percent of deaths in local jails, and between 62 and 71 percent of deaths in police custody, according to the report, which compared the number of deaths reported under DCRA with publicly available sources of information."
Read more: https://theappeal.org/doj-deaths-in-custody-failure-missing-deaths/
For an example of state data tracking summonses vs. complaint-warrants, see the data from NJ, showing disproportionate warrants (as opposed to summonses) being issued for Black defendants [even after a risk-assessment based bail reform law] (discussion at page 15 of the document, page 16 of the PDF): https://www.njcourts.gov/courts/assets/criminal/2020cjrannual.pdf#page=16
Meghan and Tenille have organized 30-minutes events that explore each of these questions at length. For information about upcoming events or links to recordings of past events, see https://www.pretrial.org/events
For recent research by our own Sandra Susan Smith on the harms of pretrial electronic monitoring, see this Faculty Working Paper published yesterday: https://www.hks.harvard.edu/publications/between-rock-and-hard-place-social-costs-pretrial-electronic-monitoring-san-francisco
For some critical perspective on Krasner's continuing use of bail, see this report from the Philadelphia Bail Fund: https://www.phillybailfund.org/dao-policy-rhetoric-vs-reality
A helpful resource on rethinking prosecution: https://fairandjustprosecution.org/
Another recent piece about to what extent elected prosecutors can advance decarceration and community safety: https://inquest.org/dan-berger-changing-everything/
Sharing again this recent paper on misdemeanor non-prosecution in Suffolk County, MA - finding non-prosecution reduces future misdemeanor OR felony court contact: https://www.nber.org/papers/w28600
See also Sandra Susan Smith's Dec. 2021 Working Paper, "The Current State of Bail Reform in the United States: Results of a Landscape Analysis of Bail Reforms Across All 50 States," which offers a 50-state survey https://www.hks.harvard.edu/publications/current-state-bail-reform-united-states-results-landscape-analysis-bail-reforms-across
Here are resources about that webinar Meghan mentioned from NY state: https://datacollaborativeforjustice.org/event/webinar-before-and-after-data-on-the-impact-of-bail-reform/
For thinking about the expansion from mass incarceration to correctional control / carceral control, see these great resources from Prison Policy Initiative: https://static.prisonpolicy.org/images/pie2022_correctional_control-2X.webp
Meghan Guevara and Tenille Patterson are the co-leaders of Pretrial Justice Institute. Their shared leadership structure is a manifestation of PJI’s ongoing racial equity journey.
Meghan is driven by a passion for building community wellness and dismantling structures of oppression. She began her career as a health educator working with system-involved youth, then quickly recognized that social systems needed to change in order for those young people to thrive.
Over the past 17 years, she has worked on a broad range of national, state and local training and technical assistance initiatives that critically examine and improve the way that public systems function — most recently helping local coalitions and jurisdictions develop antiracist solutions for pretrial policies and practices. While her goal is for people to be healthy and safe in their communities, she “speaks system” and is particularly skilled at working in the weeds with public officials who are personally committed to ending mass incarceration.
Tenille's work at PJI is part of a lifelong mission to create safe, nurturing workplaces for people representing diversity of thought, lived experience, gender, race and ethnicity. She's driven by the belief that we can create new ways of doing and being. When we build liberatory, pro-Black spaces, we not only make our communities stronger — we also help others thrive.
A CPA by trade, she began her career working in public accounting, then transitioned to the nonprofit field to align with her spirit of advocacy and social justice. She has spent the last ten years as an executive leader, helping to drive transformational change in nonprofit organizations. This included her role as Chief Operating Officer for the Center for Urban Families, a human services organization that supports Baltimore fathers and families working to overcome systemic barriers to financial stability.
Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, is the moderator of the Myths of Public Safety speaker series.
The Myths of Public Safety speaker series is organized by Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and Sandra Susan Smith, Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice; Faculty Director, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management; Director, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy; Professor of Sociology; and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute.