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11th Circuit to launch new pretrial policy project

Senior Editor Top Stories

The goal is to increase public safety, address inequities in the system, and arm judges with better information to make pretrial release decisions

The 11th Judicial Circuit, following two years of planning with local corrections officials, police, prosecutors, public defenders, and social service providers, is poised to launch the “Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research” project.

The goal is to increase public safety, address inequities in the system, and arm judges with better information to make pretrial release decisions, said Chief Judge Nushin Sayfie.

“What we’re realizing is that bail, in and of itself without any other factors, is not effective, and that’s just a data-driven statement,” she said. “That comes to us from experts in jurisdictions from all around the country.”

Officials expect to launch the project later this year, but no date has been set, Sayfie said.

The project is being supported through a competitive grant with the Arnold Foundation, recently renamed Arnold Ventures. The not-for-profit describes its core mission as “investing in evidence-based solutions that maximize opportunity and minimize injustice.”

The grant supports a collaboration between the 11th Circuit and the state attorney, public defender, the Miami-Dade Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Dade Chiefs of Police, the Homeless Trust, and Thriving Mind South Florida.

In a recent announcement, officials stressed that the project will not eliminate cash bail or first appearance hearings.

The project is designed to reform a system where “financial conditions of release are so widely used that a person’s wealth has become a primary determinant of whether they will be released or detained before trial, instead of the likelihood they will flee or pose a threat to public safety – the only two outcomes that can legally be considered,” according to the statement.

Under the current system, some Miami-Dade suspects facing violent or gun-related charges are “bonding out” without an initial appearance before a judge, officials say.

Under the project, the circuit will adopt an “excluded offense” list of 700 charges – including violent offenses and gun crimes – that will make suspects ineligible for pretrial release without first appearing before a judge.

The same condition will apply to repeat offenders.

Another key project component is a “PSA” or public safety assessment. The “actuarial tool” will consider such things as the charge, the suspect’s age, and criminal history to determine their risk of reoffending or not returning to court.

A “Release Conditions Matrix,” customized to the jurisdiction, will help judges match a person’s score on the PSA to pretrial release conditions.

“The project team’s goal is and has always been to utilize evidence-based tools in order to improve public safety and ensure future court appearances, while ensuring that no one is jailed simply because they are poor,” according to the announcement.

 

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