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GCC Calls On County Officials, Courts & Policymakers To Fund Comprhensive Pretrial Services, Reduce Jail Before Trial

Written by Greater Cleveland Congregations

At a large May 7 gathering at Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, GCC publicly called on Cuyahoga County decision-makers to enact a more just and effective pretrial system to reduce jail before trial in the county. During the public action, attendees learned about the pretrial process, heard real stories from neighbors about its costly impacts, and were provided with research-based, data-driven best practices for pretrial services with a record of success.

Hundreds of representatives from GCC member congregations across the Greater Cleveland area were joined by sitting judges from the Ohio Supreme Court, the Appeals Court, the Common Pleas Court and the Cleveland Municipal Court; judicial candidates; and public servants from the offices of the Common Pleas Court, the County Executive, the County Public Defender, the city of Cleveland, and other guests with influence over Cleveland’s justice system. 

In Cuyahoga County, about 70% of people in jail are there before trial — before their guilt or innocence has been established, noted Louise McKinney, who co-chairs GCC’s Pretrial Justice Action Team, in her introduction to the event for those gathered in person and watching online.

 “Jail before trial may equal pretrial injustice,” said McKinney, who is a member of St. John AME Church.

“In recent years, nearly all of the growth in jail populations nationally has been driven by pretrial detention,” said Jessica Ireland, senior manager at the Center for Effective Public Policy and a national expert on pretrial services programs. “Nationwide, people detained pretrial now represent approximately two-thirds of the jail population.”

Reasons so many people are in jail before trial include:

  • People in jail cannot afford to pay bail;
  • Judges have insufficient information to determine public safety risk, such as a non-biased and locally validated assessment tool;
  • Mental health and addiction diagnoses, which studies show are common among people in jail;
  • People in jail needlessly held after arrests for non-violent crimes;
  • And failure to appear in court or follow court orders.


In Cuyahoga County, the average time spent in jail prior to trial is more than seven months.

“The core values of our nation, to which we pledge, purport liberty and justice for all,” said Rev. Dr. Lisa M. Goods, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church. “But what liberty, what freedom is there for people who are held in jail cells, not because they have been convicted of a crime but simply because they cannot pay for their own release?”

Pastor Goods shared a personal story of a church member, who was held in jail for two months after she became a victim of a robbery and was brought in for questioning. Goods explained that during that time, the young woman endured mistreatment while her children suffered from her absence. Her family had to take out loans, trying to cover her $25,000 bond.

“This is not justice, and this does nothing to improve public safety,” Goods said.

 “Just three days can bring so many harms that can affect a person,” said Sharnell Woods, a member of Antioch Baptist Church. Those include harms to physical health, mental health, personal safety, finances and family life, she explained.

Jail before trial may also lead to worse legal outcomes for those jailed, according to a study highlighted by Ireland.

“Pretrial detention — for any length of time — is associated with a higher likelihood of arrest for a new crime before case disposition,” she said. “Pretrial detention is associated with an increased likelihood of receiving a sentence and a longer sentence compared to those who were released pretrial” because people in jail cannot actively participate in their own defense.

Ireland shared best practices to safely reduce jail populations, limit unnecessary pretrial detention, assist judicial officers in making informed release decisions, support people released during the pretrial process and help them to appear in court and remain arrest-free.

Those best practices include:

  • Pretrial services: comprehensive, robust and well-funded programs that ensure people in the program are promptly released;
  • Evidence-based assessments: universal screenings through tools that have been statistically proven to predict pretrial outcomes;
  • Support services: voluntary and individualized services, ranging from housing to mental health and substance use treatment;
  • Accessible data: key population and demographic information about the local criminal legal system, publicly available to community stakeholders as well as those within the system.

The importance of not just including but actively engaging all parties involved, including judges, prosecution, defense, police, sheriffs, pretrial services staff, victim advocates, county administration, those impacted by the system and the community, was underscored by Ireland.

“The fact that GCC organized this summit and invited all of us here shows me system stakeholders are interested in working together to do better and implement effective and meaningful pretrial changes,” said Ireland.

Since its founding in 2011, GCC has been an organization committed to building community power for change. With member institutions across the city and Cuyahoga County, GCC brings people together across race, religion, and region to take on tough issues like criminal justice reform, equal access to health care, and voter engagement to get real results that make a real difference.