The Burden of Pretrial Detention

By Asia H. – Criminal Justice Intern

The criminal justice system has become overcrowded, overloaded, and inefficient in dealing with criminal cases. Though many tend to think of prisons when it comes to overcrowding, jails are also experiencing unprecedented overfilling. Pretrial defendants, in particular, are a population contributing to jail overcrowding. In 2015, one study of jails in Georgia found that pretrial defendants constituted 56% of the jail population. Another study found that 75% of New York’s jail population were pretrial detainees.

Dark cell blockThe 6th amendment guarantees the right to a speedy trial, right to counsel, right to an impartial jury as well as the right to be informed of the charges against you. As it concerns pretrial detention, many detainees are extensively incarcerated due to financial issues and/or the heavy caseload of the justice system. Detainees lose out on a speedy trial when they are extensively incarcerated while waiting for a trial. The current pretrial detention needs solutions to avoid violating the 6th amendment. Limits on detention are one solution to the jail overcrowding from pretrial defendants. If the accused does not receive a speedy trial in a timely manner, they should be released until they can receive their trial. Enabling this solution does not take extra money or resources for the justice system and gives defendants the opportunity to continue their lives. Type and nature of charges should also be considered during pretrial confinement. The courts should consider only confining defendants with felony and violent charges as they may pose the biggest threat to society. Defendants with misdemeanors and nonviolent charges should instead be given alternative pretrial solutions such as home confinement and diversion programs. Increasing the use of diversion programs can reduce jail overcrowding, protect the 6th amendment, and prioritize low risk, non-violent offenders.

Issues of pretrial detention also encompass social and personal areas both in and outside of the justice system. Jails house convicted criminals, usually serving sentences of 1 year or less, inmates awaiting transfer to prisons and pretrial detainees. Mixing convicted criminals and pretrial detainees in jails can have negative effects. Within jail, pretrial detainees are exposed to inmate violence, mistreatment by correctional officers, and the jail culture they would have otherwise avoided if granted diversion.

Outside of correctional facilities, pretrial confinement also creates a stigma for the detained person. The longer a person remains in jail awaiting trial, the guiltier they look. Social isolation from family and friends, job loss, and impending financial issues are the unseen collateral consequences of pretrial detention. While pretrial detention is meant to protect society from suspected criminals and reduce the failure to appear in court, the disadvantages outweigh the benefits. Alternative solutions should be granted to ease the load on both the criminal justice system and the accused.