Pursuing Pretrial Justice Through an Alternative to Bail

On any given day in the United States, nearly half a million people are detained in jail while awaiting the resolution of their criminal cases, many because they cannot afford to pay bail. Bail is meant to ensure that defendants appear for court dates and are not arrested for new charges while they wait for their cases to be resolved. However, research has shown that setting bail as a condition of release can lead to unequal treatment and worse outcomes for defendants who do not have the ability to pay, regardless of the risk they pose. Additionally, systemic racial inequities throughout the criminal justice system mean that communities of color are disproportionately affected by cash bail and pretrial detention.

In 2016, New York City rolled out a citywide program known as Supervised Release (SR). SR offers judges the option of releasing defendants under supervision in lieu of setting bail. Defendants released to SR are required to report to program staff members regularly and are offered reminders of their court dates, case management support services, and voluntary connections to social services. The city developed the SR program to reduce the number of defendants detained in jail because they could not afford to pay bail, while at the same time maintaining court appearance rates and public safety. The findings presented in this report offer strong evidence that SR achieved these overarching goals.

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