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Jail Before Trial – We Can Do Better

Written by Greater Cleveland Congregations

Why are people in jail before trial?

Not for punishment because they have not been convicted. Most people are in jail before trial because:

  • They are too poor to pay bail; after arrest, they could have been released without bail, but with pretrial services, so that they come to their court appearances.
  • They have mental health and/or addiction issues; they should have been diverted from jail to treatment and services.
  • They were arrested for non-violent crime(s); they could have been given a court date and released, as they were not a public safety risk.
  • They failed to appear for a court date; with pretrial services, they would have likely appeared on schedule.
  • Some are in jail before trial because a judge has determined that they threaten public safety if they are released.

What’s wrong with jail before trial?

  • It violates the rule of law – the presumption of innocence and the constitution’s prohibition against excessive bail.
  • It harms individuals and their communities, is costly and does not protect public safety.
    • Just 3 days in jail can harm a person’s life going forward – even when they are not convicted; the average jail time before trial is more than 3 weeks in Cuyahoga County.
    • Jail before trial is unsafe and dehumanizing and it is harder for people in jail to prepare their defense.
    • Jail before trial is unfair: people in jail before trial are disproportionately poor and/or minorities.

What are alternatives?

  • Providing pretrial services that:
    • Investigate and recommend alternatives to jail, such as diversion and supervised release.
    • Ensure that people come to court for scheduled dates.
    • Help people to keep and/or get jobs, housing, families, transportation and other resources.
    • Protect public safety because people are less likely to re-offend.