Pre-Trial Reform

The Delaware Center for Justice believes that liberty should be the norm and that all individuals are innocent until proven guilty. DCJ advocates for the reduction of Delaware’s pretrial detention population through the use of data-driven, reliable risk assessments, as well as for improved pretrial practices statewide.

Unnecessary pretrial detention causes real consequences for individuals, communities, prisons, and courtrooms. On any given day in 2014, approximately seven percent of adult Delawareans called one of the secure facilities in our corrections’ system home. Nearly one quarter of those incarcerated, (23%) were pretrial detentioners—a group our Department of Correction defines as those held on secured bond awaiting trial. Even as efforts in recent years to decrease our prison population are enjoying some success, both the number of people we detain pretrial and the rates of pretrial detention are increasing. For example, from 2012 to 2014- a two year period when arrests for violent crime fell- the yearly average rate of pretrial detentioners rose 20%. Equally troubling, black and brown Delawareans are disproportionately detained pretrial. In a state where 22.1% of adult Delawareans self-identified as black in the 2010 census, a December 31, 2014 snapshot of the statewide prison population revealed that black people comprised 56% of all pretrial detentioners.

Delaware’s cash-based bail system also disproportionately impacts poor defendants, while simultaneously failing to address public safety concerns. By basing pretrial release on the ability to pay bail, Delaware is forcing poor but low-risk defendants to remain behind bars while they await trial while releasing some higher risk individuals who can afford bail, which does little to actually protect communities. Delaware must move to embrace a truly risk-informed system and abandon its existing cash based system.

Pretrial justice is not limited to simply bail reform, but also encompasses several crucial “front-end” components of our legal system including, but not limited to, upholding the presumption of innocence, the increased use of citations over arrest, the presence of defense counsel at the earliest hearing at which one may be detained, and the early review of charges by a seasoned prosecutor.

Get Involved

Please consider getting involved in this critical work. We have full-time, intern, and volunteer positions available and would love to hear from anyone who is passionate about seeing real change for those affected by the legal system in Delaware.