Pretrial Justice Institute
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Unpacking Willful Flight: A Call for Equity Centered Reform

Unpacking Willful Flight delves into the complex issue of distinguishing between failure to appear in court and willful flight.


Many jurisdictions are working to minimize the impact of nonappearance after the fact. This report takes the discussion upstream to consider how applying a willful fight standard at initial bail hearings could further close the front door to mass incarceration.

The report also addresses how some local jurisdictions are working to reduce the frequency and impact of nonappearance—advocating for a holistic approach that recognizes the diverse circumstances leading to missed court appearances, while focusing on community supports to help people safely return to court.

Key topics and resources include:

  • The history of how willful flight became failure to appear

  • The role pretrial risk assessments play in initial bail hearings, potentially leading to overestimations of risk and imposing unnecessarily restrictive measures

  • Data revealing disproportionate impact on Black, brown and other marginalized communities

  • Insights from practitioners, community advocates and legal scholars

  • The path forward, including insights from the Pretrial Fairness Act in Illinois

  • A tool for defining and applying a racial equity lens in pretrial policies and practices

  • A discussion guide to help foster meaningful conversations with your colleagues and community around the topic of willful flight

This publication is the second in a new series of reports and events grounded in our Local Antiracist Pretrial Justice framework.

Watch the Unpacking Willful Flight Roundtable—and stay tuned for the follow-up brief coming later this summer.