Which method of pretrial release is the most effective?


As one might expect, financial conditions of release (even small bonds) far outperform those of OR and pretrial releases.

Judicial discretion is paramount in deciding release and most releases occur without any financial condition or additional court related burden at all.  However, one size does not fit all and additional layers of accountability are necessary to ensure that both defendants and victims have their day in court.  Bail decisions are routinely reviewed after the initial bail setting to foster balance and fairness within the system.

Defendants released on a bail bond were 28 percent less likely to fail to appear than similar defendants released on their own recognizance…

There have been several studies looking to answer the question of effectiveness, but the most comprehensive has been conducted by the Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics between 1990-2004.  The study, “Pretrial Release of Felony Defendants in State Courts,” examined the pretrial practices of the 75 largest counties across the country and assessed which method of release was the most effective at ensuring defendants show up for court.  The surprising thing about this study is that each of the 15 years the study was conducted, the results were the same.  The most effective form of release in terms of ensuring appearance at court were releases on a financially secured bail bond with an 18% Failure to Appear (FTA) rate.  The two least effective forms of release were OR releases with a 26% FTA rate and unsecured release through a pretrial services agency with a 30% FTA rate.  Additionally, the release through a financially secured bail bond surpassed all other forms of release in the area of fugitive recovery rates.  After one year, only 3% of people released on a bail bond were still at large compared to 8% for OR bonds and 10% for those released through a pretrial program.

These statistics have been used by several other researchers in conducting additional studies on the topic of pretrial release.  One of the most widely known of these studies, was conducted by Eric Helland and Alex Tabarrok.  Their study, “The Fugitive: Evidence On Public Versus Private Law Enforcement From Bail Jumping” was published in the University of Chicago Journal of Law and Economics. It found that, “defendants released on a bail bond were 28 percent less likely to fail to appear than similar defendants released on their own recognizance, and if they do fail to appear, they are 53 percent less likely to remain at large for extended periods of time.”