September 19, 2016This study by John MacDonald and Ellen Donnelly, conducted at the request of the Delaware Access to Justice Commission’s Committee on Fairness in the Criminal Justice System, involved a statistical review of all adults arrested and charged with a criminal offense in Delaware between 2012 and 2014 to determine the extent to which race is a factor in explaining the likelihood or length of any subsequent incarceration sentence. While the authors caution that the study does not identify exact causes for any observed disparities, factors such as the offense charged at arrest, pretrial detention and contextual factors such as criminal history appear to be important contributors to Black/White differences in incarceration.
Link to Access to Justice Commission press release on the study
July 14, 2016
This working paper by Quattrone Center researchers Paul Heaton, Sandra Mayson, and Megan Stevenson offers a first-of-its-kind empirical analysis of misdemeanor pretrial detention.
Abstract: In misdemeanor cases, pretrial detention poses a particular problem because it may induce otherwise innocent defendants to plead guilty in order to exit jail, potentially creating widespread error in case adjudication. While practitioners have long recognized this possibility, empirical evidence on the downstream impacts of pretrial detention on misdemeanor defendants and their cases remains limited. This Article uses detailed data on hundreds of thousands of misdemeanor cases resolved in Harris County, Texas—the third largest county in the U.S.—to measure the effects of pretrial detention on case outcomes and future crime. We find that detained defendants are 25% more likely than similarly situated releasees to plead guilty, 43% more likely to be sentenced to jail, and receive jail sentences that are more than twice as long on average. Furthermore, those detained pretrial are more likely to commit future crime, suggesting that detention may have a criminogenic effect. These differences persist even after fully controlling for the initial bail amount as well as detailed offense, demographic, and criminal history characteristics. Use of more limited sets of controls, as in prior research, overstates the adverse impacts of detention. A quasi-experimental analysis based upon case timing confirms that these differences likely reflect the casual effect of detention. These results raise important constitutional questions, and suggest that Harris County could save millions of dollars a year, increase public safety, and reduce wrongful convictions with better pretrial release policy.
Summary of Key Findings
June 15, 2016This article by Stephanos Bibas in the William and May Law Review proposes ways to improve the plea bargaining process so as to improve fairness and reduce wrongful convictions.
Abstract: American criminal procedure developed on the assumption that grand juries and petit jury trials were the ultimate safeguards of fair procedures and accurate outcomes. But now that plea bargaining has all but supplanted juries, we need to think through what safeguards our plea-bargaining system should be built around. This Symposium Article sketches out principles for redesigning our plea-bargaining system from the ground up around safeguards. Part I explores the causes of factual, moral, and legal inaccuracies in guilty pleas. To prevent and remedy these inaccuracies, it proposes a combination of quasi-inquisitorial safeguards, more vigorous criminal defense, and better normative evaluation of charges, pleas, and sentences. Part II then diagnoses unfair repercussions caused by defendants’ lack of information and understanding, laymen’s lack of voice, and the public’s lack of information and participation. To prevent and fix these sources of unfairness, it proposes ways to better inform pleas and to make plea procedures more procedurally just.
May 4, 2016This working paper by Quattrone Center Research Fellow Megan Stevenson provides innovative new quasi-experimental evidence on the impacts of bail.
Abstract: Instrumenting for detention status with the bail-setting propensities of rotating magistrates I find that pretrial detention leads to a 13% increase in the likelihood of being convicted, an effect explained by an increase in guilty pleas among defendants who otherwise would have been acquitted or had their charges dropped. On average, those detained will be liable for $128 more in court fees and will receive incarceration sentences that are almost five months longer. Effects can be seen in both misdemeanor and felony cases, across age and race, and appear particularly large for first or second time arrestees. Case types where evidence tends to be weaker also show pronounced effects: a 30% increase in pleading guilty and an additional 18 months in the incarceration sentence. While previous research has shown correlations between pretrial detention and unfavorable case outcomes, this paper is the first to use a quasi-experimental research design to show that the relationship is causal.
April 25, 2016In this groundbreaking report, the Quattrone Center provides a first detailed look at the structure and functioning of Conviction Review Units across the United States.
U.S. policymakers and the public are increasingly concerned about wrongful convictions– situations where innocent individuals have been convicted and incarcerated for crimes they did not commit. The most prevalent institutional response by prosecutors to address post-conviction fact-based claims of actual innocence is the Conviction Review Unit (CRU), sometimes called the Conviction Integrity Unit. Since the creation of the first CRU in the mid-2000s, more than 25 such units have been announced across the country; more than half of these have been created in the past 24 months.
Most CRUs have grown up ad-hoc, often in reaction to a limited number of specific cases with unique circumstances. Very few have written protocols, policies, or procedures, and few of those have been made public. This paper reports results from the first ever national survey of CRUs designed to assist: (a) Current CRUs in understanding how their peers have approached common challenges; (b) Offices without CRUs in the creation of effective units; and (c) Communities in developing metrics to evaluate the units and their utility.
February 10, 2016Can a Criminal Justice Alcohol Abstention Program with Swift, Certain, and Modest Sanctions Reduce Population Mortality?This study, published in the Lancet Psychiatry and co-authored by Academic Director Paul Heaton, examines whether a program for handling substance-involved offenders in the criminal justice system that replaces traditional probation with a new approach based upon frequent monitoring and swift, certain, but modest sanctions can improve population health. Analysing county-level data, the study shows that implementation of 24/7 Sobriety in South Dakota—the largest such program targeting alcohol-involved offenders to date—is associated with a reduction in mortality of 4.2% (95% CI 1·5–6·9; p<0.01). The association is evident among causes strongly and often acutely associated with excessive alcohol use such as circulatory conditions. These results provide additional support for swift, certain, and fair sanctioning approaches to community supervision, and build upon prior research suggesting that such programs can reduce crime.
October 16, 2015The Access to Justice Commission, an initiative of the Delaware Judiciary, has requested analysis of several aspects of Delaware’s criminal justice system to determine whether reforms in policing, prosecution, adjudication and imprisonment can be accomplished in a way that would reduce racial disparities, while not increasing the incidence of violent crime. The Quattrone Center provided recommendations to the commission on ways to improve fairness in police searches, bail, charging and sentencing, and application of alternatives to incarceration.
April 20, 2015This white paper describes an internal Root Cause Analysis (“RCA”) conducted by the Montgomery County, PA District Attorney’s Office in partnership with the Quattrone Center. The Quattrone Center specializes in RCA regarding errors within the criminal justice system. RCA has been used in complex and fragmented industries (e.g., healthcare, aviation, nuclear power) to understand the various factors (direct and environmental) that lead to both individual and systemic-based errors, and to provide interventions that can effectively prevent future error.
February 1, 2014The “systems approach” has been used, improved, and refined over time to improve safety and reduce errors in a variety of complex, high-risk industries, including health care, aviation, and manufacturing, among others. While the challenge of preventing errors in well-meaning complex systems is neither new nor unique to criminal law, the need for error reduction in the criminal justice system is clear. This document advocates for the application of a systems approach to reducing errors in the criminal justice system, generating reform in a fashion that will unify well-intentioned but professionally adversarial participants around an objective shared by all: the integrity of investigations, prosecutions, and adjudications, and the elimination of known and currently unknown errors that undermine the fair administration of justice. It then sets forth requirements for the successful application of a systems approach, and a model for interaction among researchers, reformers, and practitioners in the criminal justice system – including prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and law enforcement officials – that will allow for more rigorous analyses of the criminal justice system and the design, testing, dissemination and implementation of successful best practices that will improve the fair administration of justice.