In January 2020, stakeholders in North Carolina’s Twenty-First Judicial District (Forsyth County) implemented a pretrial reform initiative designed to reduce unnecessary detentions of individuals charged with the lowest-level offenses. Specific attention was paid to those detained solely due to an inability to pay bail and not because of their risk to the community. To address this issue, local leaders developed and implemented a new structured decision-making tool for magistrates and judges to use when making bail decisions. Key elements of the tool include:
Diverse teams of justice system stakeholders in New Hanover, Orange, and Robeson counties participated in the North Carolina Court Appearance Project, seeking to improve local court appearance rates and develop better responses to nonappearances. The teams examined local court and jail data, reflected on court practices and procedures, and crafted policy solutions suited to the needs of their communities and courtrooms. We recently released a report describing the project teams’ initial efforts. This post summarizes key takeaways from that report.
As blog readers know, the UNC School of Government Criminal Justice Innovation Lab has been developing a Measuring Justice Dashboard. Last year we released our Dashboard first metrics: Citation v. Arrest and Summons v. Warrant. We recently released a new Dashboard metric: Criminal Charging. In this post I’ll give some highlights of that tool. But in case you want to get right to it, you can access the Dashboard from the Lab’s web page (https://cjil.sog.unc.edu/); from the main page, click on “Measuring Justice.”
Interim Report: Judicial District 21 Bail Project
In January 2020, North Carolina’s Twenty-First Judicial District (Forsyth County) implemented a consensus bail reform initiative in the form of a structured decision-making tool for magistrates and judges when making bail decisions. Some key features of the tool include:
- creating a presumption for a condition other than a secured bond for Class 2 and 3 misdemeanors;
- providing screening factors to identify individuals charged with Class 1 and A1 misdemeanors and Class F-I felonies who can safety be released pretrial;
- affording no special presumption or screening for those charged with Class A-E felonies; and
- embedding within the decision-making process the statutory requirement that conditions other than a secured bond must be imposed absent a risk of non-appearance, injury to any person, or interference with the criminal proceeding.
The new decision-making tool was developed by a stakeholder team that included judges, prosecutors, public defenders, clerks, magistrates, law enforcement leaders, and others. One of the working group’s primary goals was to reduce pretrial detentions of individuals who do not pose a pretrial risk but are detained solely due to inability to pay bail. The UNC School of Government Criminal Justice Innovation Lab supported stakeholders in the development and implementation of the new tool and, with support from local stakeholders, is conducting an empirical evaluation of its impact. We recently released a report (here) from the first year of the evaluation. This post summarizes key findings.
In January 2020, North Carolina’s Second Judicial District (Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell, and Washington Counties) implemented two consensus bail reform initiatives. First, they implemented a structured decision-making tool for magistrates to use when making bail decisions. Among other things, the tool:
- creates a presumption for conditions other than a secured bond for people charged with Class 3 misdemeanors;
- provides screening factors to quickly identify individuals charged with intermediate-level cases (defined by local policy to include Class A1 – 2 misdemeanors and Class F – I felonies) who can be released on a condition other than a secured bond;
- affords those charged with Class A – E felonies no special presumptions or screening; and
- embeds within the decision-making process the statutory requirement that conditions other than a secured bond must be imposed absent a risk of non-appearance, injury to any person, or interference with the criminal proceeding.
Second, stakeholders implemented new first appearances for individuals detained on misdemeanor charges to ensure timely judicial review of bail.
These reforms were developed by a stakeholder team including judges, prosecutors, public defenders, clerks, magistrates, and law enforcement leaders. One of the team’s goals was to reduce pretrial detentions of individuals who do not pose a pretrial risk but are detained due to inability to pay bail. The UNC School of Government Criminal Justice Innovation Lab supported stakeholders in the development and implementation of reforms and, with support from local stakeholders, conducted an empirical evaluation of their implemented reforms. We recently released a final report (here) on that evaluation. This post summarizes key findings.
Editor’s Note: This is the first post by Ethan Rex, who has served as the Project Manager for the Criminal Justice Innovation Lab since June 2020. We welcome Ethan to the blog!
The UNC School of Government Criminal Justice Innovation Lab recently released a report of early findings for the Citation Project. Executed by the Lab and the North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police (NCACP), the Citation Project seeks to improve policing practices through implementation and rigorous evaluation of a model citation in lieu of arrest policy. Initial findings from the first report are promising: citations are being heavily used in pilot sites, there were no racial disparities in warrantless arrests, implementation is strong, magistrates’ bail decisions suggest the policy is working as intended, and use of citations results in substantial time savings for police departments.
We recently invited North Carolina jurisdictions to apply to participate in the NC Court Appearance Project. The project is supported by the UNC School of Government Criminal Justice Innovation Lab and The Pew Charitable Trusts. We’re excited to announce our three project sites: New Hanover, Orange, and Robeson Counties. We will be supporting stakeholders in these jurisdictions as they examine the scope and impact of missed court dates and explore ways to improve court appearance rates and responses to missed court dates. Each site has a project team composed of local judges, the DA, the Public Defender or a defense representative, the sheriff, the clerk of court and other officials. Because we’re interested to help stakeholders explore solutions that can work across diverse jurisdictions, we’re happy to have participation from an urban county, a suburban county, and a rural county. Thanks to everyone that applied—we wish we could have included all of you!
The UNC School of Government Criminal Justice Innovation Lab and The Pew Charitable Trusts and invite North Carolina jurisdictions to apply to participate in the NC Court Appearance Project. Pew and the Lab will offer free technical assistance for up to three North Carolina jurisdictions interested in examining the scope and impact of missed court dates and exploring ways to improve court appearance rates and responses to missed court dates. Because Pew and the Lab adhere to a non-partisan, evidence-based approach to criminal justice policy, this project will be grounded in data, research, and stakeholder collaboration and priorities.
In late 2020 and early 2021, stakeholders in Orange County, North Carolina implemented new bail reform initiatives. The new initiatives build on earlier efforts. Specifically, stakeholders already had funded a county pretrial services program; adopted an empirical risk assessment tool to inform judges’ pretrial decision-making; established a “strike order court,” affording relief from court non-appearances in appropriate cases; instituted pre-arrest diversion with law enforcement support; and established specialized courts to more effectively address the needs of those who enter the criminal justice system because of underlying issues such as poverty, homelessness, substance use, and mental health concerns. Additionally, local police departments and the sheriff’s office had implemented new policing practices, such as citation in lieu of arrest, to promote the county’s pretrial goals. And in 2018, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution supporting the 3DaysCount initiative, a national effort to improve community safety by applying common sense solutions to pretrial justice issues. Notwithstanding these efforts and actions and the statutory mandate that conditions other than secured bond must be imposed unless the judicial official finds certain factors, G.S. 15A-534(b), data showed that secured bonds continued to be the most common condition of pretrial release used in the county, even in misdemeanor cases. Stakeholders also reported concerns that low-risk individuals were being unnecessarily detained pretrial on money bonds they could not pay.