Exploring the Potential for Pretrial Innovation in Massachusetts
Public Welfare Foundation
The Boston Foundation
The Hyams Foundation
Many states involved in Justice Reinvestment—a data-driven approach to reduce incarceration and increase public safety—have taken aim at the practice of holding defendants on cash bail. These efforts are backed by research that shows many defendants held in jail awaiting trial do not pose a serious risk. Keeping low-risk defendants out of jail allows states to save money and redirect resources toward more effective uses, like providing treatment and community supervision. Pretrial innovation also has the potential to reduce racial disparities in incarceration rates. Racial and ethnic bias in bail decisions can have a compounding effect over time because defendants who await trial in jail are more likely to spiral deeper into the criminal justice system.
This policy brief, the first in a series examining Justice Reinvestment in Massachusetts, provides a primer on the state’s pretrial process and presents new data, which highlight racial and ethnic disparities and other issues of concern. The brief concludes with a blueprint for pretrial innovation in the Commonwealth.