Leading in Pretrial Justice

In May 1964, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy addressed the first National Conference on Bail and Criminal Justice, which was launched “to promote awareness that prevailing bail practices were unfair and that new methods had been developed for handling the problem of pretrial release in criminal cases . . .  [and] to assist  courts, communities and organizations in developing systems to eliminate unnecessary detention of accused persons and provide fairer and less costly ways of enforcing their appearance in court . . .” This conference was a seminal event in establishing the field of pretrial release by exposing for the first time the scope and depth of the bail problem to a national audience of more than 400 judicial officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys, police, bondsmen and prison officials and challenging them to address this problem. It led to national media endorsement of selective release and exploration of alternatives as well as extensive coverage of the inequities in the bail system; and instigated the public movement in favor of the proposition that pretrial release without bail for large numbers of accused persons can yield significant benefits to the cause of justice without compromising law enforcement or impairing public safety.[i]

In his opening remarks, Kennedy stated:

“The relationship of bail to criminal justice is a subject which involves fair treatment for our fellow citizens in court, whether arrested for speeding or burglary, whether guilty or innocent .  .  .Yet, one of the most surprising – and really troubling – disclosures of recent history is that whether or not a man makes bail has a vital effect on whether, if innocent, he will be acquitted; and whether, if guilty, he will receive equal opportunity for probation.”

Kennedy implored those in attendance to accept the special responsibility to represent indigent persons who are accused of a crime and not yet adjudicated, and who spend time incarcerated before their guilt has been established because they are unable to make bail.

Kennedy further remarked:

“The programs and experiments you will hear about have generated new techniques for releasing accused persons prior to trial, without hampering law enforcement, without increasing crime, and without prompting defendants to flee.  These techniques have fiscal value.  .  But even more significant, in a land which has put the quality of justice ahead of the cost of justice, these techniques have social value.”[ii]

Since its beginning in 1967, PSA has operated under the guiding principle that non-financial conditional release, based on the history, characteristics, and reliability of the defendant, is more effective than financial release conditions. Reliance on money bail discriminates against indigent defendants and cannot effectively address the need for release conditions that protect the public. Over the past 40 years, PSA has remained committed to developing effective mechanisms for formulating non-financial release recommendations to the Court and providing comprehensive supervision and treatment options to defendants. Today, the District of Columbia is among less than a half dozen jurisdictions in the country that does not support a commercial bail bonding industry.

[i] Proceedings and Interim Report of the National Conference on Bail and Criminal Justice; U.S. Department of Justice and the Vera Foundation, Inc.; Washington, DC, April 1965.

[ii] Proceedings and Interim Report of the National Conference on Bail and Criminal Justice; U.S. Department of Justice and the Vera Foundation, Inc.; Washington, DC, April 1965.