Report Shows One-Third Violate Pretrial Release
The Department of Justice released a 16-page report finding that about one-third of all felony defendants let out on a pretrial release program violate the terms of their release by failing to appear for a court date, by being arrested for other crimes while on release, or by otherwise violating conditions of release, for example by using drugs or alcohol (Brian A. Reaves, Ph.D. and Jacob Perez, Ph.D., Pretrial Release of Felony Defendants, 1992, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Nov. 1994, NCJ-148818).
The survey looked at a sample of 13,206 cases in the state court systems of the 75 largest (in population) counties in the U.S. in May 1992 to describe the estimated 55, 246 felony cases filed in that month. The progress of each case was traced for one year.
The study found that the more serious the crime, the less likely the defendant was to be released before trial. One in twelve defendants released did not appear for trial and were missing one year later. 68% of those arrested on a drug charge were released before trial.
Drug cases constituted 30.3% of the total number of cases.
As the table below shows, overall, 37% of all those charged were not released. The study revealed that 29% of those charged with simple possession of drugs are not released, and are therefore jailed until trial. This is the same percentage as those charged with weapons offenses.
|Percent of felony defendants in the 75 largest counties:|
|Most serious arrest charge||Number of defendants||Released before case disposition||Detained until case disposition|
Drug offense defendants are much more likely to be released when very high bail is set than those charged with other offenses. For example, for bail of more than $20,000, for all offenses, only 18% of those charged are released, but 29% of the drug defendants "make" bail compared to 17% charged with violent offenses, 11% violent offenses, and 18% for public-order offenses. Only when bail for offenses is under $2500 is the release/detention ratio for drug offenses close to the average for all offenses (table 3).
[Most of those who fail to appear, in my experience, typically are confused about the date or the courtroom, oversleep, have trouble with transportation to an unfamiliar destination, or don't care to be on time, but eventually do appear at trial.
The report presents racial data in a manner that is so sloppy and incomplete that it is impossible to interpret meaningfully the significant racial differences that are reported. The report identifies the racial characteristics of those released by type of release (table 13), of those rearrested (table 15), those who failed to make court appearance (table 14), and those "charged with misconduct" (table 16). Obviously one would need to know the racial breakdown of the total sample to make sense of any of the data differentiating by race. The report never provides this fact or any way to compute it.
The presentation of the data regarding race is so haphazard, I was baffled about why it was included. For example, there is interesting racial disparity regarding different types of bail (table 13). When surety bond is the method of assuring release (a privately issued bail bond), there is parity between black and white defendants -- 49% for both groups. But bail requiring the payment of the full amount of cash bond (100%) was imposed 58% for black defendants and 41% for white defendants. Is 100% cash bail being imposed equally for black and white defendants, or more frequently for defendants of one race or the other? Not reported. For bail where a percentage deposit of the full amount was required is even more disparate: 71% black and 28% white. What were the racial breakdowns for those who could not make bail under those terms, i.e. those who were not released? Not reported. How can anyone make any sense of racial distinctions in subcategorieswithout knowing the racial profile of the entire sample or of logically comparable categories: those released versus those not released?
The report reaffirms one of the reasons why pretrial release is so important. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits "excessive bail." People who are denied bail are terribly hindered in their ability to defend themselves. They can't easily identify or contact witnesses on their behalf, they can't easily meet with their attorneys. 39% of the released defendants were not convicted but only 21% of the detained defendants were not convicted -- a difference of almost 100% (table 18). -- EES]
To obtain a copy of this report, contact the BJS Clearinghouse, Box 179, Anapolis Junction, Maryland, 20701-0179, 1-800-732-3277. To receive a free fax of the 16-page report, call 301-216-1827.