Who Should Be in Jail?

About 90 national leaders who are in the forefront of pretrial reform came together in Washington, DC this week to talk about successes and challenges in changing the way most jurisdictions determine who is detained in jail before trial and who is not.

The forum, which was sponsored by the Public Welfare Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Association of Counties, and the National Center for State Courts, featured prominent officials and practitioners who discussed the use of risk-based assessments, rather than money bail, to help officials make better decisions about when someone who has been arrested can be released safely before trial.

In welcoming the participants, Mary McClymont, President of the Public Welfare Foundation, noted that the forum was designed to showcase important new developments in research and the evolution of risk assessment tools, and to share the perspectives of many different stakeholders about pretrial risk assessment.

Of an estimated 12 million arrests each year, only five percent are for serious or violent offenses. Yet the nation is spending about $9 billion annually on the pretrial system, including keeping people in jail who pose no risk to public safety, but are locked up simply because they cannot afford even modest amounts of bail.

Risk assessment tools can help sort out who should be detained because they might commit a new offense, particularly a violent offense, and who might not show up in court for trial. But, currently, about 90 percent of jurisdictions in the country do not use risk assessments even though a majority of the public supports it.

The featured speakers included:

Hon. Eric Washington, Chief Judge, District of Columbia Court of Appeals and former president of the Conference of Chief Justices;

Bart Johnson, Executive Director, International Association of Chiefs of Police;

Dan Gillison, Director, County Solutions and Innovation, National Association of Counties;

Tim Murray, Executive Director, Pretrial Justice Institute;

Anne Milgram, Vice President of Criminal Justice, Laura and John Arnold Foundation;

Chris LowenKamp, Lead Researcher, Luminosity, Inc.;

Tara Klute, Director, Kentucky Pretrial Services;

Frank G. Straub, Jr., Chief of Police, Spokane, Washington;

John Chisholm, District Attorney, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, and Board Chair, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys;

Jo-Ann Wallace, President and CEO, National Legal Aid and Defender Association;

Honorable Margie Enquist, District Court Judge, Jefferson County, Colorado;

Honorable Thomas Kilbride, Chief Justice, Illinois Supreme Court;

Honorable John Byron Van Hollen, Attorney General, State of Wisconsin, and President, National Association of Attorneys General;

Honorable John Tilley, House of Representatives and Chair, House Judiciary Committee, Kentucky.

Seema Gajwani, Program Officer for Criminal Justice, Public Welfare Foundation.


The Public Welfare Foundation supports efforts to advance justice and opportunity for people in need. These efforts honor the Foundation’s core values of racial equity, economic well-being, and fundamental fairness for all. The Foundation looks for strategic points where its funds can make a significant difference and improve lives through policy and system reform that results in transformative change. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter or on Facebook.

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