Screening Arrestees for Pretrial Release Eligibility

Karl I. Moline, University of Maryland at College Park

The pretrial release decision has been shown to play a large role in driving the criminal justice system. This decision affects personal liberty, case outcomes, and jail overcrowding. A rational and equitable pretrial release process is one in which only those defendants who pose a serious risk of flight or danger to the community are detained to trial. Currently, the pretrial release process is far from this ideal. Decisions are made without a systematic understanding of the likely outcomes of those decisions, resulting in extensive unnecessary pretrial incarceration. The Vera Institute's Manhattan Bail Project pioneered the use of risk assessment instruments to guide pretrial release decisions. Based on data collected in Baltimore City, Maryland, the researchers tested the ability of traditional static variables, such as those used in the Vera instrument, as well as more advanced dynamic variables to predict which arrestees are the best candidates for pretrial release. From this, a risk assessment instrument was developed, taking into account the most significant factors affecting successful pretrial release results. A random experiment was used to test the instrument. This paper will discuss the development of the new instrument and the results of the validation experiment designed to test it.

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Updated 05/20/2006