Criminal Justice - Bail & Pretrial Practices


    Pretrial risk assessment is used to determine whether a defendant should be released prior to court appearance, and if so, under what conditions (such as cash bail, electronic monitoring, periodic check-in with the court, urinalysis, restitution, community service, counseling, etc.):
    1. will the defendant show up in court at the appointed time?
      ("Appearance Rate"; FTA = Failure to Appear)
    2. will the defendant commit another crime prior to appearing in court?
      ("Safety Rate", NCA = New Criminal Activity)
    3. For a brief summary of cash bail and pretrial issues in Pennsylvania, see "The Pipeline to Prison: Pretrial Reform" (June 2018).

  • Bail Basics in Pennsylvania - a law office description of how cash bail typically works in Pennsylvania

Pretrial Rules in Pennsylvania

Problems / Issues with Cash Bail

Cash Bail Reform - Advocacy

Pretrial Reform - Resources and Examples

Consequences of Pretrial Detention

Plea Bargaining

Criminal Justice - Risk Assessment Tools

  • Although risk assessment tools have been widely used for a number of years and often have reduced the number of people detained in jail or prison, they are inevitably racially biased and there are better alternatives. See The Case Against Pretrial Risk Assessment Instruments and What If? Ten Questions for Sparking Local Pretrial Change from the Pretrial Justice Institute.
    Also see the Bail Project's policy brief Pretrial Algorithms (Risk Assessments) which opposes the use of pretrial risk assessment to help decide whether an individual is incarcerated pretrial, based on evidence that risk assessment tools disproportionately harm people of color, oversimplify complex individual and case outcomes, undermine standards of procedural justice, and rely on data that is inaccurate, outdated, and unreliable.
  • Lehigh County, PA, uses a (proprietary) subjective Risk Assessment (pretrial) and Wisconsin Risk and Needs Assessment tools (for reentry)
  • Northampton County, PA, uses a pretrial risk assessment tool that is similar to New Jersey's.
  • Risk Assessment Tool Database (Berkman Klein Center)
    The Risk Assessment Tool Database collects public information about the design and implementation of risk assessment instruments widely used across the U.S. criminal justice system and tracks associated judicial and legislative developments.
Specific tools include:
  • Public Safety Assessment (PSA)
  • Wisconsin - Wisconsin Risk/Needs (WRN) & Wisconsin Risk and Needs-Revised (WRN-R)
  • Ohio - Ohio Risk Assessment System, including the
  • Ohio Risk Assessment System-Pretrial Assessment Tool (ORAS-PAT),
  • Ohio Risk Assessment System-Community Supervision Tool (ORAS-CST),
  • Ohio Risk Assessment System-Community Supervision Screening Tool (ORAS- CSST),
  • Ohio Risk Assessment System-Prison Intake Tool (ORAS-PIT), and
  • Ohio Risk Assessment System-Reentry Tool (ORAS-RT)
Tools descriptions and evaluation:
Bail Bond Insurance Industry

Solitary Confinement

  • Solitary Confinement: with John Oliver (20-min. documentary video)
  • "We just needed to open the door": a case study of the quest to end solitary confinement in North Dakota (Health Justice: Oct. 18, 2021)   In 2015, after North Dakota correctional officials and staff members were exposed to Norwegian Correctional Service philosophy, policies, and practices, North Dakota officials swiftly implemented policy changes. Following the reforms, both incarcerated persons and staff members reported improvements in their health and well-being and enhanced interactions with one another, and less exposure to violence.
  • Inventing Solitary - panel discussion hosted by the Phialdelphia Inquirer, recorded on 7/28/2022, explores the Philadelphia origins of the American prison system and traces the evolution of solitary confinement from Walnut Street to penitentiaries across the nation. Panelists include Akeil Robertson-Jowers, a Philadelphia artist who was formerly incarcerated; Robert Saleem Holbrook, formerly incarcerated and now Exec. Director of Abolitionist Law Center; and Inquirer writer Samantha Melamed. Watch the video recording here.
    -- Also see Philadelphia Inquirer's report Inventing Solitary, investigating the anti-Black origins of solitary confinement, and the practice's mutations and euphemistic renaming under "segregated housing" and the "Intensive Management Unit." Read the report here.
  • Last Days of Solitary - FRONTLINE documentary (PBS: 2017; 1:53:11)
    In this 2017 documentary, FRONTLINE goes inside one state's ambitious attempt to decrease its use of solitary and takes a look at what happens when prisoners who have spent considerable time in isolation try to integrate back into society. Watch on youtube here, or on PBS here.
  • Solitary Nation - FRONTLINE documentary (PBS: 2014; 53:40)
    "Solitary Nation" offers an up-close, graphic look at a solitary confinement unit in Maine's maximum-security prison with firsthand accounts from prisoners and staff whose lives are forever altered by this troubled system.
  • Unlock the Box Campaign - a national campaign to end solitary confinement
  • Solitary Watch - a nonprofit national watchdog group that investigates, documents, and disseminates information on the widespread use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and jails.
  • Community Care Starts Here: A Town Hall on Ending Solitary Confinement
    (PA Stands Up: recorded 6/16/2022)
  • Solitary Survivor - Jose Rivera (Straight Ahead video clip)
    Jose Rivera of #LehighCounty speaks about his experience in solitary. He said being in front of the camera brought him back to the camera in his solitary cell, monitoring his every move 24/7 on the so-called gang unit. The psychological effects of torture will in some ways never leave.
  • Solitary Survivor - Luna Fernandez (Straight Ahead video clip)
    "It takes everything from you." This is how Luna Fernandez explained the sights, sounds, and feelings of solitary confinement. Solitary is a torture tool that psychologically changes people.
  • Solitary Survivor - Darnell Scott (Straight Ahead video clip)
    "Caged. Loneliness. Strained. Dark Sad." These are the words that Darnell Scott used to describe solitary from his experience. While the light glared at all hours of the day and night, Darnell said it was dark in solitary because, "I was just alone."
  • Albert Woodfox's decades in solitary confinement
    (WHYY-RadioTimes: August 20, 2022; 49-min. audio interview)
  • Shedding Light on "the Hole": A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis on Adverse Psychological Effects and Mortality Following Solitary Confinement in Correctional Settings (Frontiers in Psychiatry: Aug. 19, 2020)

Solitary Confinement - "Step-Down" programs

Also see other Resources on Criminal Justice Reform.