By Shereen Siewert

A new report released this week by the Pretrial Justice Institute, or PJI, issued Wisconsin a C grade in the quality of the state’s pretrial justice systems.

The nation as a whole received a D, according to the report.

The State of Pretrial Justice in America examines pretrial justice – the phase of the criminal justice system from initial contact with law enforcement to the resolution of charges through a plea, trial or dismissal – at the state level and for the nation as a whole.

Among the report’s findings:

  • More than one third of states received a failing grade due to high rates of unnecessary pretrial detention and failure to implement evidence-based tools to guide decisions about who goes to jail before trial.
  • The nation’s overall D grade is due in part to the widespread failure to use validated evidence-based pretrial assessments meant to guide discretion and reduce bias.
  • Just one state, New Jersey, earned an A grade, after eliminating money bail at the beginning of 2017.

Federal statistics show that nearly two-thirds of people in U.S. jails have not been convicted of the charges against them. Research shows many of these men and women could be safely released before their trial, but instead remain behind bars solely because they cannot afford money bond.

The widespread jailing of people who have a high probability of pretrial success in the community is a major driver of the nation’s mass incarceration crisis, including massive overcrowding of jails both locally and nationwide.

The report calls for replacing money bail with the use of evidence-based pretrial assessments that can help courts more accurately identify those individuals who merit admission to jail before trial because they pose an unmanageable risk to the community.

Fewer than 3 percent of U.S. residents live in a jurisdiction that has functionally eliminated money bail.

The report highlights several states where significant pretrial improvements seem to be on the horizon, as more and more jurisdictions begin to move away from using money bond to make decisions about pretrial release.

“The State of Pretrial Justice in America is our attempt to capture the current standard of pretrial justice practices in all fifty states through using basic indicators and data states have made available to the public,” said PJI CEO Cherise Fanno Burdeen. “It is a baseline against which we can gauge progress from individual states and the country as a whole in coming years.”

The Pretrial Justice Institute’s core purpose is to advance safe, fair, and effective juvenile and adult pretrial justice practices and policies, according to the group’s website. PJI is funded in part by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.