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Robin Wosje

The past two decades have enhanced our understanding of pretrial risk. We now know that most individuals with pending criminal cases make scheduled court appearances and remain arrest-free as they await trial. When missed court dates occur, they often are not intentional abscondence but rather the result of unintentional or unavoidable circumstances. Further, most new cases filed against pretrial defendants involve misdemeanors and lower-level felony charges, not violent crimes.

However, while we recognize the infrequent and dynamic nature of pretrial misconduct, most justice systems define, and measure missed court appearances using the dated and overly broad “failure to appear” descriptor and view new case filings mostly as serious offenses affecting public safety. The result is an overestimation of defendant risk and overly punitive responses to misconduct.

This publication discusses the nature of pretrial risk, missed court dates, and new case filings. It also proposes more accurate and useful definitions for these events and presents strategies used nationwide to help prevent misconduct or to mitigate it when it occurs.

Behavioral health and social service needs are common in most arrest populations. For most individuals, these needs will not interfere with making court appearances and remaining arrest-free before trial. However, need can escalate into a heightened risk of pretrial misconduct for some people. This publication discusses the complexity of managing substance use disorder—a prevalent need in most arrest populations—and suggests a “pretrial intervention services” model that outlines when pretrial agencies should consider services, when services should be integrated into supervision support, and what treatment service strategies are best at the pretrial stage.

Pretrial supervision is a critical function of most pretrial services agencies. Unfortunately, most pretrial supervision strategies and conditions are not supported by research. Pretrial services agencies often recommend—and courts order—conditions that are inconsistent with the goals of promoting court appearance and arrest-free behavior. This can expose individuals who would otherwise comply with these goals to bail revocations due to technical violations.

This publication describes the elements of a "success-based" pretrial supervision protocol that emphasizes successful outcomes as a goal, encourages individualized conditions of supervision, and includes interventions to deal with court nonappearance. It also gives practical examples of how pretrial agencies can implement these elements.

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