Kentucky Pretrial Release System – Ineffective Waste of Resources

New study issued by law professor proves that the Kentucky’s Pretrial Release Program for those criminally charged is completely failing despite repeated attempts to fix it.

by Jeff Clayton, Executive Director

Kentucky’s pretrial services program, which costs the state around $12 million annually, is the only statewide pretrial program in the nation.  These programs are posited as an alternative to posting bail and basing bail on “risk” that allegedly has decreased mass incarceration, reduced crime, increased appearances in court all while saving a bunch of money.  As bail reform has become a hot topic nationally, Kentucky is often served-up as a leader in pretrial services, despite the fact that there is little in the way of research to back that up.

One law professor from George Mason School of Law, Megan Stevenson, decided to find out.  She obtained six years’ worth of data to study pretrial services and its effectiveness in Kentucky.   What she found should call into question whether Kentucky should have a statewide pretrial program at all.

A copy of Professor Stevenson’s study can be downloaded here:

Assessing Risk Assessment In Action

Professor Stevenson found that: “Kentucky’s experience with risk assessment should temper hopes that the adoption of risk assessment will lead to a dramatic decrease in incarceration with no concomitant costs in terms of crime or failures to appear.”

In fact, as a result of the reforms implemented in 2011 to fix the pretrial services program, which included bringing in the Public Safety Assessment Tool created by the Arnold Foundation, rearrests are up, failures to appear in court are up, there has not been any jail savings from the program, and violent crime continues to increase.

Stevenson noted that “it is clear that the increased use of risk assessments as a result of the 2011 law did not result in a decline in the pretrial rearrest rate.” 

She noted that failures to appear in court did not decrease, and, in fact, “The introduction of the PSA did not lead to a decline in failures-to-appear. If anything, the FTA [failure to appear in court] rate is slightly higher after the PSA was adopted than before.” 

There were no savings from reducing jail populations because there was only a “trivial” decrease in the jail population as a result of the program since legislation was enacted in 2011 to fix it.

Kentucky does not need this program—what Kentucky spends on the program has had virtually no impact in achieving the goals the program has been attempting to achieve and failing to achieve since 1976.  No other state has a statewide pretrial services program—they leave that decision to local governments to decide whether to have a pretrial program or not and what the program should look like.

As the debate concerning the budget in Kentucky goes through the process, it is critical for legislators, staffers, and others within Kentucky to be apprised of this recent research as they move forward with finalizing a new two year budget.

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