Criminal Justice - Bail & Pretrial Practices


    Pretrial risk assessment is used to determine whether a defendant should be released prior to court appearance, and if so, under what conditions (such as cash bail, electronic monitoring, periodic check-in with the court, urinalysis, restitution, community service, counseling, etc.):
    1. will the defendant show up in court at the appointed time?
      ("Appearance Rate"; FTA = Failure to Appear)
    2. will the defendant commit another crime prior to appearing in court?
      ("Safety Rate", NCA = New Criminal Activity)
    3. For a brief summary of cash bail and pretrial issues in Pennsylvania, see "The Pipeline to Prison: Pretrial Reform" (June 2018).

  • Bail Basics in Pennsylvania - a law office description of how cash bail typically works in Pennsylvania

Pretrial Rules in Pennsylvania

Problems / Issues with Cash Bail

Cash Bail Reform - Advocacy

Pretrial Reform - Resources and Examples

Failure to Appear

  • Forty-one states impose additional penalties for FTA (PrisonPolicyInitiative: August 15, 2023)
    Responses to FTA (Failure To Appear in court) and not about improving appearance.. This report found on balance, state responses to FTA are focused on punishment, not improving appearance. Forty-one states impose additional penalties for FTA, including 20 states allowing jail or prison time, 17 jurisdictions (including D.C.) allowing fines and fees, and 4 states imposing a strict liability standard for FTA.
  • Unpacking Willful Flight: Roundtable (recorded webinar: September 26, 2023; 1:26:46)
    (Pretrial Justice Institute) The law recognizes a difference between nonappearance in court and willful flight (or evading prosecution), yet many jurisdictions treat them both the same, under the umbrella category of failure to appear (FTA). This has significant consequences for pretrial liberty and equity, and conversely, can result in the likelihood of nonappearance being a driver of mass incarceration.
    This roundtable explores strategies to achieve freedom and safety for more people facing charges, while providing support to help them return to court.
    Also, read the report: Willful Flight

Consequences of Pretrial Detention

Plea Bargaining

Criminal Justice - Risk Assessment Tools

  • Although risk assessment tools have been widely used for a number of years and often have reduced the number of people detained in jail or prison, they are inevitably racially biased and there are better alternatives. See The Case Against Pretrial Risk Assessment Instruments and What If? Ten Questions for Sparking Local Pretrial Change from the Pretrial Justice Institute.
    Also see the Bail Project's policy brief Pretrial Algorithms (Risk Assessments) which opposes the use of pretrial risk assessment to help decide whether an individual is incarcerated pretrial, based on evidence that risk assessment tools disproportionately harm people of color, oversimplify complex individual and case outcomes, undermine standards of procedural justice, and rely on data that is inaccurate, outdated, and unreliable.
  • Lehigh County, PA, uses a (proprietary) subjective Risk Assessment (pretrial) and Wisconsin Risk and Needs Assessment tools (for reentry)
  • Northampton County, PA, uses a pretrial risk assessment tool that is similar to New Jersey's.
  • Risk Assessment Tool Database (Berkman Klein Center)
    The Risk Assessment Tool Database collects public information about the design and implementation of risk assessment instruments widely used across the U.S. criminal justice system and tracks associated judicial and legislative developments.
Specific tools include:
  • Public Safety Assessment (PSA)
  • Wisconsin - Wisconsin Risk/Needs (WRN) & Wisconsin Risk and Needs-Revised (WRN-R)
  • Ohio - Ohio Risk Assessment System, including the
  • Ohio Risk Assessment System-Pretrial Assessment Tool (ORAS-PAT),
  • Ohio Risk Assessment System-Community Supervision Tool (ORAS-CST),
  • Ohio Risk Assessment System-Community Supervision Screening Tool (ORAS- CSST),
  • Ohio Risk Assessment System-Prison Intake Tool (ORAS-PIT), and
  • Ohio Risk Assessment System-Reentry Tool (ORAS-RT)
Tools descriptions and evaluation:
Bail Bond Insurance Industry

Solitary Confinement

Solitary Confinement - "Step-Down" programs

Also see other Resources on Criminal Justice Reform.