Criminal Justice

NEW SURVEY: With Increased Understanding of Current Practices, Americans Support Reforms to Pretrial and Money Bail Systems

July 12, 2018

Arlington, VA, July 12, 2018 – The Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) and Stand Together Trust (formerly STT) released a study today that shows strong support among Americans for commonsense changes to the criminal justice system that would make it fairer for people who have been arrested but not convicted of a crime.

The poll finds Americans want to see a more equitable justice system that focuses on public safety rather than default incarceration. More than half of Americans do not want courts to detain people on low-level offenses and 52 percent believe prosecutors should have to make the case for detention, rather than people making the case for their pretrial liberty. Eighty-three percent agreed people who have been arrested for serious violent offenses should be detained when no other option would protect public safety or get them safely back to court.

“It is time that we ask ourselves whether the American pretrial justice system actually upholds the promise that individuals are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” Stand Together Trust Senior Policy Analyst Jordan Richardson said. “Our communities are safest when the justice system makes freedom the norm and detention, as Supreme Court Chief Justice Rehnquist stated, the ‘carefully limited exception.’”

More than three-quarters of respondents think the wealthy enjoy substantially better outcomes from the criminal justice system than do poor and working-class Americans. A large majority favors providing support, such as transportation assistance, for people released before trial who may have difficulty getting to court.

“Americans realize the criminal justice system is a maze—once you get in it’s hard to get out—and they want commonsense solutions that will level the playing field for poor and working-class people and those who need help, such as domestic violence victims and people facing mental health or addiction challenges,” PJI CEO Cherise Fanno Burdeen said. “The bottom line is, the public believes the government must prove an individual belongs in jail before trial—which is the opposite of how the system works now due to the widespread use of money bail.”

The poll results also indicate that most Americans are unfamiliar with the pretrial process, from arrest to resolution of charges. This demonstrates a tremendous opportunity for education about this critical issue.


  • Seventy-eight percent of Americans think the current system favors the wealthy with 62 percent saying they feel that way strongly.
  • Fifty-seven percent of Americans favor ending the practice of jailing people who cannot afford money bail before trial in all but extreme cases.
  • When asked about eliminating money bail entirely and replacing it with pretrial assessment and supervision, a plurality (45 percent) favors the idea.
  • Only six percent of Americans feel there is no need to change the current criminal justice system.
  • When it comes to deciding whom to release from jail before trial, a strong majority (72 percent) said public safety should be the primary concern. Only 10 percent said failure to appear for trial should be the deciding factor in whether to incarcerate someone.
  • When asked whether prosecutors should have to make the case to keep someone in jail before trial, or whether defendants should have to make the case that they should be released, 52 percent said prosecutors and only 27 percent said defendants.
  • Americans want alternatives to default detention. Specifically:
    • Seventy-six percent would like to see the number of arrests for low-level, nonviolent offenses reduced by using fines and tickets as punishment rather than jail time.
    • Seventy-two percent support limiting how many days people charged with low-level offenses can stay in jail before trial if they cannot afford money bail.
    • Fifty-eight percent would favor the use of unsecured bonds (a person’s promise to pay a fine if they do not show up for trial) instead of requiring people to pay money upfront.
  • Americans believe moving toward a system of support—where people are given access to court reminders, referral services, and supervision—would be fairer to people of all income levels and races than the current money bail system. Respondents favored various types of supports, including:
    • Education and counseling (81 percent).
    • Court reminders or supervision for people awaiting trial in the community (77 percent).
    • Reliable transportation to court for people who don’t have the money to get there (74 percent).
  • Americans also favor support for individuals with specific needs. Specifically, 89 percent want support services for people awaiting trial who are victims of domestic violence; 89 percent want support services for people awaiting trial who suffer from mental health issues; and 77 percent want support services for people awaiting trial who suffer from drug or alcohol addictions.
  • Fifty-one percent of respondents had never heard of (21 percent) or had no opinion (30 percent) of the term “pretrial justice.”
  • Fifty-two percent of respondents had never heard of (32 percent) or had no opinion of (20 percent) pretrial preventive detention.
  • After the poll introduced possible alternatives to money bail (e.g., court reminders, supervision), 28 percent of respondents who originally were opposed to or undecided about such alternatives shifted toward support for the elimination of money bail in favor of community-based support for people before trial.


For more than five decades, Charles Koch’s philanthropy has inspired bold new ideas to improve American lives. Inspired by a recognition that free people are capable of extraordinary things, Stand Together Trust supports education and dialogue to advance these principles and challenge convention. We work to remove barriers to opportunity for all Americans, helping individuals transform their lives. To learn more visit


The Pretrial Justice Institute (PJI) is a national organization working to advance safe, fair, and effective pretrial justice that honors and protects all people. PJI monitors the state of, and advocates for, pretrial justice in America—by convening, educating, and supporting system stakeholders to effect change; by demonstrating that change is possible by working directly with jurisdictions on implementation; and by engaging in public dialogue about the need for improvements and commonsense solutions. For more information about PJI, visit


On behalf of the Pretrial Justice Institute, Lake Research Partners designed and administered a nationwide survey, conducted by phone using professional interviewers, of 1,400 registered voters, including oversamples of 200 African-American and 200 Latino registered voters (MoE +/- 3.1%), May 2-17, 2018.