The criminal-justice system, driven by elected prosecutors, judges and sheriffs, is designed to incentivize risk avoidance, leading to over-incarceration. Rule changes alone, without the infrastructure for success, are not enough.

Properly functioning and accountable pretrial practices can provide an institutional check on the default response of detaining people before trial. Pretrial assessments can highlight the likelihood of success in the community. Pretrial services agencies (or components within probation) can offer support to people released before trial, such as court reminders and links to voluntary services for transportation assistance and substance-use and mental-health needs. These can improve appearance rates and mitigate some of the conditions that lead to minor re-arrests.

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Maryland has wisely set aside funds to begin creating an infrastructure for success across the state. But while Maryland judges and prosecutors will have these support systems and alternatives within reach, work must still be done to change the culture around money bonds. Fairness and real public safety will be achieved only when the system understands that pretrial detention should be the carefully limited exception.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen, Rockville

The writer is executive director of the Pretrial Justice Institute.

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