Q & A: Profile Based Risk Assessment for US Pretrial Incarceration, Release Decisions
Human Rights Watch
Jun 1, 2018

Pretrial incarceration is the practice of holding people accused of crimes in jail while their cases are decided, from initial arrest through trial, dismissal or a guilty plea.  Generally, judges set bail that a person could pay to be released during this pretrial period, though, in some limited circumstances, judges may order a person held without the opportunity to pay bail.  Judges may also release people without requiring bail.

Pretrial incarceration keeps people who have not been convicted of any crime in jail.  By law, these people are presumed innocent, but they are punished with imprisonment based on mere allegations.  Many are in fact innocent, and their cases will eventually be dismissed or they will be found “not guilty” at trial.  In California alone, Human Rights Watch found that, from 2011-2015, over a quarter of a million people who were either held in custody following a felony arrest or who paid bail were never charged.  Jailing innocent people costs taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

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