Statement on the Waukesha Christmas Parade Tragedy
As we grieve for those affected, CEPP's APPR calls for a more rational legal framework for pretrial release and detention decisions.
From Alison Shames and Matt Alsdorf, co-directors, Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research (APPR)
January 4, 2021
All of us at APPR were shocked by the tragic event that occurred in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on November 21. In addition to shocking our senses, it illuminated the failures of certain pretrial practices not unique to Wisconsin but, unfortunately, common throughout the nation. Our hearts grieve for those affected, directly and indirectly. Our minds plea for a better way.
The person who was accused was previously arrested on a violent charge and was assessed as being at an elevated likelihood of another. Despite this knowledge, he was released pretrial on money bond. This starkly demonstrates the limitations of a system that depends on money to control the gates of safety. Under a money-based system, there is no guarantee that the person with a high propensity for rearrest—particularly violent rearrest—will be detained, just as there is no guarantee that the person likely to remain law-abiding will be able to afford a low monetary bond and be released. Decades of research from the field is unequivocal: Money bond is not effective at detaining those who should be detained, releasing those entitled to freedom, or ensuring court appearance or law-abiding behavior.
Pretrial systems are more effective when the judicial officers charged with making release and detention decisions operate under a rational, commonsense legal framework. Such a framework would eliminate the use of money bond; include substantive hearings to select, based on state law, the few who should be detained; and ensure that full and complete information and time is available for decision makers to properly review each case and its individual circumstances.
In jurisdictions that have created such systems, including New Jersey and Washington, D.C., only a small portion of the people arrested are deemed too dangerous or likely to flee to be released. In these jurisdictions, research shows that crime doesn’t spike, people aren’t needlessly held in jail, and those determined to be most dangerous are often detained.
The tragedy in Waukesha should not discourage us from working to improve pretrial justice. Rather, it is a clarion call for increased effort to craft a more rational and demonstrably effective system. It is not possible to prevent all tragedies, but we believe—and evidence demonstrates—that a legal framework for release and detention decisions will improve community safety and well-being. We invite others to join APPR in our collective responsibility to enact policies and practices that lead to a more just, effective, and equitable pretrial system.
Alison Shames is a director and Matt Alsdorf is an associate director at the Center for Effective Public Policy.
Advancing Pretrial Policy and Research (APPR) is dedicated to achieving fair, just, effective pretrial practices, every day, throughout the nation. It works with justice professionals and community members to improve pretrial justice systems in ways that prioritize community well-being and safety, racial justice, fairness, and the effective use of public resources. APPR is a project of the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice, with support from Arnold Ventures. Learn more at advancingpretrial.org.