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Pretrial services

According to those who study evidence-based teaching methods, comparing and contrasting two different objects, persons, or even fields and disciplines, such as pretrial release and probation, can have one of the greatest effects on learning. Indeed, comparing and contrasting is considered to be one of the earliest ways that we humans begin learning (going back to how we identify things in early childhood) and makes the best use of elements necessary for all effective learning methods, each of which allows us to form relationships between constructs through reasoning. In sum, comparing and contrasting is highly valuable. Nevertheless, there are three prerequisites to any compare and contrast exercise. 

Pretrial justice systems seek to maximize court appearance and community well-being and safety. In fact, these are the only two outcomes that can legally be considered when deciding to release or detain a person during the pretrial phase. Fair, just, and effective pretrial justice systems strive to implement practices that help people succeed while on pretrial release. To do this, it’s essential to understand the effectiveness of common pretrial practices based on current research. APPR has developed a number of pretrial research summaries to meet this need. Read the resources that follow as you start assessing your jurisdiction’s policies and practices. Consider the summaries as you reflect on your local goals and values. Identify topics to explore more deeply. And consider the implications of what you learn on future pretrial advancements.

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.

This paper examines the effects of pretrial detention on case outcomes in federal criminal cases. Unlike cash-bail regimes that are prevalent in state courts, federal courts rarely use money bail as a condition of pretrial release. Nonetheless, this paper documents significant effects of pretrial detention for federal criminal defendants. Using data spanning 71 federal district courts, I present evidence that pretrial release reduces a defendant’s sentence increases the probability that they will receive a sentence below the recommended sentencing range. Pretrial release also appears to lessen the probability that a defendant will receive a mandatory minimum sentence when one is charged, but does not seem to affect the probability of facing a mandatory minimum. To address the identification problem inherent in using pretrial detention status as an explanatory variable, I exploit variation in magistrate judges’ propensities to release defendants pending trial, which allows magistrate judge leniency to serve as an instrumental variable for pretrial release. The paper also provides evidence that pretrial release affects case outcomes through two channels: first, by giving defendants the opportunity to present mitigating evidence at sentencing and second, by making it easier for defendants to earn a sentencing reduction by providing assistance to the government.

In 2016, Leslie Turner was arrested in North Las Vegas, Nevada because she failed to pay for a traffic ticket. In the months prior, Ms. Turner struggled to keep her head above water. Her son was born two months premature, which resulted in after-birth complications, and was also diagnosed with Clonus, “a condition that results in involuntary muscle spasms sometimes caused by an underdeveloped nervous system.” Ms. Turner relied on the help of her mother and Clark County Social Services after the birth of her son so that she could continue to care for her son and maintain her monthly housing expenses. However, her unpaid traffic tickets remained a problem during this difficult time. Nevada is one of thirteen states that treat traffic violations as criminal infractions. When she missed a payment, Ms. Turner called the court to explain her extenuating circumstances, but she was “told she would either have to attend court or turn herself in.”

Your Honor, Mr. Jones will come back to court. He’s lived in the same apartment with his family for years, works part-time, and is putting himself through school. He is not a flight risk. I ask that you release him and allow him to return to court on his own recognizance. 

In five years as a public defender in the Bronx, I gave that pitch — or a variation of it — hundreds of times, trying to convince judges not to set bail on people I represented. The arraignment courtroom, where people were first brought within twenty-four hours of an arrest, was nothing short of chaos. Within minutes of meeting a client, based on whatever little information I could gather in short order, I would appear in front of a judge to make a case for release. Sometimes I had strong facts on my side, such as a mother or family member in the courtroom to demonstrate that this person had ties to the community and wasn’t a flight risk. Other times, especially in cases where the person was homeless, or had multiple prior arrests, I had a lot less to work with.

The symposium highlighted promising law enforcement, prosecutorial, and judicial interventions at the pretrial stage and promoted dialogue among justice practitioners on how front-end interventions could fit within an evidence-based, harm reduction-focused criminal justice framework. As illustrated above, participants at the symposium learned about and considered various alternative approaches to increasing public safety and addressing health issues facing their communities. They also shared their experiences with—and perspectives on—implementing front-end interventions in their own jurisdictions.


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