The NCSL Blog


By Amber Widgery

Solutions to some of the most difficult problems require collaboration. Judges, legislators and government officials at all levels are working together to address the issue of burgeoning jail populations and specifically pretrial detention, which accounts for more than half of all jail inmates nationwide.

District Judge Nicholas Scott (Iowa), Susan Keilitz (NCSC) and NCSL's Amber Widgery at the Indiana Supreme Court chambers/bench which is still housed in the Indiana State Capitol building. A recent meeting in Indianapolis convened by the National Center for State Courts, with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, made it clear that state court officials are interested in this issue and interested in working with their legislative counterparts to achieve better outcomes for people who become involved in the justice system.

Representatives from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin attended the meeting. Teams assembled by state court officials included various representatives from state and local government, including Senator Elgie Sims (D) who attended the meeting with the Illinois delegation.

Sims was a co-sponsor of the Bail Reform Act of 2017 (SB 2034). The act provides defendants with the right to counsel at bail hearings, creates presumptions to reduce the use of financial conditions of release and authorizes the state supreme court to establish a risk-assessment tool to be used to assist with release determinations.

NCSL staffer Amber Widgery gave a national overview of recent legislation affecting this area of the law. She highlighted trends that emerged among the nearly 700 recent enactments from the states including SB 2034.

Discussion also highlighted pilot programs and innovative work taking place in local jurisdictions. For example, Summit County, Ohio, has been implementing pretrial reforms, including implementation of a felony summons initiative aimed at diverting defendants charged with nonviolent low-level felonies from pretrial detention.

Summit County and 19 other local jurisdictions have received grant support from the Innovation Fund, a partnership between the MacArthur Foundation and the Urban Institute. This funding supports local-level innovation aimed at reducing incarceration and promoting public safety, consistent with the goals of MacArthur’s Safety and Justice Challenge.

MacArthur and Urban just announced a second Innovation Fund competition. New sites will receive a grant of $50,000 and technical assistance and peer learning support in their efforts to rethink justice systems and implement data-driven strategies to safely reduce jail populations.

Agencies, organizations, and other entities interested in applying for the Innovation Fund can access the program and grant application details. Applications are due June 15, 2018.

NCSL tracks both enactments and pending legislation on pretrial policy.

Amber Widgery specializes in pretrial, justice involved mental health, and drug crime policies for NCSL.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.