By Holly Zeimer
Montgomery, AL—Pretrial Alliance Montgomery (PAM) today welcomed national criminal justice leaders to Montgomery.
Kristin Bechtel and Virginia Bersch with the philanthropy Arnold Ventures (AV) met today with the PAM policy team to learn how its work is advancing pretrial justice. PAM is a collaborative team of justice system professionals and community, faith, and public health groups working to improve Montgomery County’s pretrial system.
“Montgomery County is a model for other communities nationwide by showing how deep collaboration among justice system partners and community members can result in practical and effective improvements to their pretrial system. Pretrial Alliance Montgomery has undertaken significant work to identify changes that are responsive to the community,” said Bersch, criminal justice director, AV. “Judge Hardwick’s leadership has been essential. I am thrilled to visit in person and see firsthand how this local collaborative is advancing pretrial justice.”
“Our vision for pretrial justice in Montgomery County is one that promotes fairness and equity and balances concern for community safety, concern for all victims, and meet the needs of people in the pretrial phase,” said Judge Johnny Hardwick, Presiding Circuit Court Judge, 15th Judicial Circuit. “I am grateful to the many justice system professionals and community members for their contributions and thank Arnold Ventures for selecting Montgomery County to receive assistance with this important work.”
Montgomery County: An APPR Research-Action Site
Montgomery County was selected through a competitive process to participate as one of six Research-Action Sites in the national Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research (APPR) initiative, with support from AV. As a Research-Action Site, the county receives intensive assistance from justice experts to study its system, analyze local data, and implement research-based improvements.
Research to Inform Pretrial Practices
APPR’s independent research partner is studying Montgomery County and the other Research-Action Sites to identify promising improvements that enhance community well-being and safety.
“The pretrial field needs more rigorous research to inform other communities about effective, evidence-based pretrial practices,” Bechtel said. “As a Research-Action Site, the work happening in Montgomery County will provide other communities with important insight into how pretrial policies and practices can result in a more fair and effective system that enhances community well-being and safety.”
The Pretrial Phase
The pretrial phase starts when a person is charged with an offense and lasts until the case is resolved. During this period, many decisions are made—starting with the first point of contact with law enforcement—that have enormous consequences for the person accused, their family, and the community.
During the pretrial phase, the US Supreme Court is unequivocal in stating, “In our society, release is the norm, and detention prior to trial or before trial is the carefully limited exception.” Research has shown that jailing a person for any amount of time before trial is associated with an increased likelihood of rearrest.
PAM members are studying improvements across the pretrial system. Workgroups are discussing improvements to the arrest and jail booking process at Mac Sim Butler Detention Center; considering how to ensure a meaningful first appearance hearing (this hearing is the first time a person accused of a crime can argue for release from detention); and studying the Public Safety Assessment, a pretrial assessment that brings more information to support informed release decisions, including decisions about whether conditions, if any, are required while the person continues to live in the community until their case is resolved.
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