Pretrial Justice Clinic

The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world and Los Angeles incarcerates more people than any other city in the United States. One of the biggest drivers of mass incarceration over the past two decades has been the use of cash bail to incarcerate people pretrial. The negative consequences of pretrial incarceration primarily impact communities of color and low-income communities.

The Pretrial Justice Clinic takes a two-pronged advocacy approach to tackle the injustices of pretrial incarceration. First, students represent clients in felony bail hearings in collaboration with the Los Angeles Public Defender’s Office. Second, students engage in a policy-oriented project focused on systems change in the pretrial context. This approach is designed to train students in multi-modal advocacy that connects individual client work with opportunities for systems transformation.

Pretrial Justice Clinic Policy Projects

  • Fall 2023 - Electronic Monitoring: A Primer for Defense Attorneys in L.A. County

    Los Angeles County has seen a 5,250% increase in pretrial electronic monitoring in recent years. Some of the Pretrial Justice Clinic clients have been placed on electronic monitoring programs on top of other burdensome conditions, despite there being little to no evidence of the efficacy of electronic monitoring as it relates to ensuring return to court or preventing rearrest. This fall, students in the clinic conducted research and compiled a primer for defense attorneys to inform them of the latest research on electronic monitoring and provide arguments that can be utilized in court to fight against the imposition of electronic monitoring.

    Find the primer here

  • Fall 2023 - Presumed Guilty, The Pretrial Incarceration Crisis in Los Angeles County

    During the month of October ‘23, students enrolled in the Pretrial Justice Clinic at UCLA School of Law observed court proceedings in two courthouses in LA County as volunteers for La Defensa’s Court Watch Los Angeles Program. In partnership with La Defensa’s judicial accountability team they collated the findings from these observations into a robust report that reveals troubling patterns of injustice in Los Angeles County courts. Data from the report indicates that LA County judges are not equitably implementing pretrial release protocols. Instead, they are ordering cash bail in 61% of felony cases and set bail at a shockingly high median amount of $100,000. Even more disturbing is the racial inequity inherent in the proceedings observed: observers found that Black and Latine individuals accounted for three-quarters of individuals whose cases came before the courts, and that Latine individuals had the lowest rates of own recognizance release. Finally, observers noted that despite judges being mandated by the California Supreme Court in In re Humphrey to consider a person’s ability to pay bail, the judges observed made an ability to pay analysis in only 23% of cases.

    Read the report.

  • Fall 2022 - The Harms of Pretrial Detention

    The people that students in the Bail Practicum represent are detained simply because they are not rich enough to pay the cash bail that the court has set. In the 2021 In re Humphrey decision, the Supreme Court of California ruled that when setting bail, courts must conduct an individualized analysis of each person’s ability to pay when setting bail and that unaffordable bail is unconstitutional. While this decision should have shifted the landscape regarding pretrial release, what our students saw in court with respect to their clients’ cases over the 2022 Fall semester was a different story. Each week in class we were confronted with one injustice after another. Whether it was a judge refusing to set bail at an affordable amount as the law requires, imposing onerous conditions of pretrial release, or the inability of our clients’ to access confidential attorney visits, our clients faced harm and injustice at every turn. The selected essays below comprise the observations, reflections, and insights from students in the Bail Practicum after they litigated bail hearings in L.A. County courts.

    Read the report.

  • Fall 2021 - Coming Up Short: The Unrealized Promise of In Re Humphrey

    Coming Up Short: The Unrealized Promise of In Re Humphrey is a report produced by the Policy Advocacy Clinic at Berkeley Law and the Bail Practicum at UCLA Law. It provides a comprehensive look at the impact of In re Humphrey on the landscape of pretrial detention in the state. The report reaches a grim conclusion: that implementation of this decision is coming up short.

    Through qualitative and quantitative analysis of documents across all of California’s 58 counties, the research team found that the promise of Humphrey, 18 months after it was decided, remains unmet. What has emerged through a review of copious data, correspondence, policies, news articles, and a statewide survey of defense attorneys is the following:

    1. There is no evidence that Humphrey has resulted in a net decrease of the pretrial jail population in California;
    2. There is no evidence that Humphrey has resulted in a decrease in bail amounts across California; and
    3. There is no evidence that Humphrey has resulted in a decrease in the average length of pretrial detention in California.

    Authors of the report are Alicia Virani, Stephanie Campos-Bui, Rachel Wallace, and two students from the UCLA Law Bail Practicum, Cassidy Bennet '22, and Akruti Chandrayya '22.

    Read the report.

  • Fall 2020 - Counting the Days

    This report, authored by three UCLA School of Law students, uncovers that people incarcerated in Los Angeles County jails pretrial are being held for longer periods of time during the COVID-19 pandemic than prior to the pandemic. While 35% of the pretrial population in January had been in custody for six months or longer, in September it jumped to 41%. The percentage of Black and Latinx people in the jails increased during the pandemic. 36% of Black people detained pretrial in January had been in jail for 6 months or longer, but that number jumped to just over 44% by September. 

    The report draws from over 400 declarations submitted by people incarcerated in the County’s jails. It argues that if the County does not act to release people during the deadly pandemic and safely resume jury trials, there will be massive violations of the constitutional rights of people incarcerated pretrial and potentially deadly consequences for all those in the County's jails.

    Read the report.

    Read opinion articles about the report:

  • Fall 2019 - Creating a Needs-Based Pre-trial Release System

    “Creating a Needs-Based Pre-trial Release System: The False Dichotomy of Money Bail Versus Risk Assessment Tools” is a report authored by CJP staff and students at UCLA School of Law enrolled in 2019’s Bail Practicum. The report proposes an alternative that allows pre-trial detention to be used only in a very limited set of circumstances, while supporting those released pre-trial with community-based, voluntary services to ensure return to court and that other vital needs are being met. The report argues for robust pre-trial detention hearings and proposes a community care and support agency “CASA” that jurisdictions around the country could create to support individuals released pre-trial. In addition, the proposed model would not rely on risk-assessment tools to determine who is released, as there have been concerns that these tools may lead to an increase in racial disparities in the criminal legal system. The authors propose instead a new model that has the potential to reduce failures to appear, mitigate risk, and provide much needed support to people caught up in the criminal legal system.

    Read the brief.

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