Pretrial, Fines & Fees

THE ISSUE. Pretrial incarceration occurs when someone who has yet to be convicted of a crime is locked up while awaiting trial. Jail stays can range from a few days to a few years depending on the backlog of cases. Pretrial incarceration was originally purposed with detaining defendants who present a legitimate threat to public safety or who have a track record of failing to appear for court dates. However, it’s now largely determined based on inability to pay fines or fees such as monetary bail, traffic tickets, or court fees. 

THE IMPACT. Taxpayers are footing the bill for jail stays that often times have an adverse effect on public safety. Research shows that, especially in regards to low-risk defendants, even brief jail stays can increase the chance of committing another crime in the future. A contributing factor for this is that a few days in a cell can lead to being laid off, losing housing, making it difficult to find and keep meaningful employment.

When someone who has mental health issues is locked up pretrial it can compound their situation. The same can be said for people who display signs of substance abuse.

Lastly, this can also create a vicious cycle of court debt. Once someone is locked up because they are unable to afford a fine or fee, they tend to rack up additional costs that are attached to court proceedings. Failure to pay this debt can result in more jail time for an indigent individual while defendants with thicker wallets are able to walk free.

Ability to pay a certain amount of money is not a strong predictor of intention to show up in court, nor does it reveal the level of risk of committing another crime.

— Public safety must be placed at the forefront of the criminal justice system by determining pretrial incarceration based on risk. Judges can gain a bigger picture of each individual and make decisions on a case-by-case basis if they utilize risk assessment tools that take criminal records into account.
— Indigence should be considered when assigning fines or fees.
— Give police officers the option to divert low-risk defendants with mental health or substance abuse issues to treatment programs rather than jail.
—Offer alternatives to incarceration for unpaid fines or fees such as payment plans, community service, and digital court reminders.

Rethinking Pretrial Justice in the Pelican State

Scott Peyton | December 19, 2018
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Florida Bar Pretrial Panel Update

Chelsea Murphy | November 9, 2018
The Florida Bar’s first-ever Criminal Justice Summit brought together a diverse group of leaders to provide in-depth education and discussion on key criminal justice issues. Attendees shared ideas and…

Tulsa County sees success in criminal justice reforms after one year

Joe Griffin | September 21, 2018
Despite a series of reforms passed by the legislature, Oklahoma remains a negative example to rest of the nation for the perils of over-incarceration. This week, however, the Tulsa…

Being Right on Bail

Julie Warren | September 13, 2018
Across the country, lawmakers have undertaken a critical examination of their state’s pretrial justice system, particularly where cash bail is concerned.  Kentucky has led on this issue for decades,…

New California law terminates bail and risks public safety while Texas seeks reform

Chuck DeVore | September 11, 2018
This article by Chuck DeVore originally appeared in Forbes September 10, 2018. With California Governor Jerry Brown’s signature on Senate Bill 10, the cash bail system, with 15 centuries of…

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Michael Haugen | September 10, 2018
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Marc Levin | August 8, 2018
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Fines meant to help enforce laws hits low-income workers the hardest

Thomas Lyons | July 24, 2018
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Sunshine and Seashells, Mollusks and Mens Rea

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Federal court rules in favor of bail reform

Katie Greer | July 13, 2018
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Money should not come before safety

Julie Warren | July 9, 2018
This blog by Julie Warren was originally published by the Beacon Center July 9th, 2018. The principle of innocent until proven guilty is a bedrock of America’s criminal justice…

In rural areas, jail populations are skyrocketing — including pretrial detainees

Michael Haugen | July 3, 2018
This article by Michael Haugen originally appeared in National Review July 3rd, 2018.   Although never explicitly codified in the Constitution, the axiom that a person is considered innocent…
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