Pretrial Services & Supervision

Since the 1970s, the institution of pretrial services programs has been a significant component of the bail reform movement. As jurisdictions moved away from release decisions based on financial conditions based on the crimes charged toward considerations of the risks posed by individual defendants (see Legal Framework and Release Decisions topics), they recognized the need for more standardized processes for gathering and reporting the information needed to make risk-based decisions. Pretrial services programs perform this critical function, as well as other key roles in mitigating the risks posed by defendants who are released pretrial. The Pretrial Services Institute has derived six core functions of pretrial services programs from national standards set out by the American Bar Association and the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies:

  • Impartial universal screening of all defendants, regardless of charge;
  • Verification of interview information and criminal history checks;
  • Assessment of risk of pretrial misconduct through objective means and presentation of recommendations to the court based upon the risk level;
  • Follow up reviews of defendants unable to meet the conditions of release;
  • Accountable and appropriate supervision of those released, to include proactive court date reminders;
  • Reporting on process and outcome measures to stakeholders.

The most recent survey of pretrial services agencies in 2009 identified over 300 jurisdictions with pretrial services programs, but that number has grown along with the movement for pretrial justice reform. From 2012 to 2014, six states enacted legislation to authorize or establish statewide pretrial services programs (Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Vermont and West Virginia). Across and within states, responsibility for administering pretrial services varies widely. Within the criminal justice system, pretrial services may be under the court, the jail, or probation. In some jurisdictions, pretrial services are administered by an independent agency or a nonprofit organization. Kentucky has led the way in instituting and managing a statewide court-based pretrial services program, and the District of Columbia’s Pretrial Services Agency is a mature and innovative independent agency.

Supervision and monitoring of defendants released during the pretrial period is a key function of pretrial services. In performing this essential function, pretrial services programs should apply the same risk principle that underlies pretrial release decisions. Research indicates that supervision conditions should be tailored to the individual defendant’s risk and needs related to public safety and appearance for court proceedings. Court date reminders have been shown to be an effective method to improve appearance rates for all defendants. Other common supervision conditions include regular check-ins with a pretrial case manager, drug and alcohol testing, and electronic monitoring.

Key Resources