Understanding pretrial release decisions and alternatives: A risky proposition

Jennifer L Stevens, Purdue University


The pretrial period is critical for defendants in America’s criminal justice system. Previous research has shown that those who are held before trial experience negative consequences like longer sentences than those who are released before trial. In order to provide a more nuanced understanding of pretrial release decisions and alternatives, this study pursued three aims using a framework of therapeutic jurisprudence. The first aim was to better understand judicial decision-making in the pretrial process. The second aim was to examine the role that families play in the pretrial process. The third aim was to provide a longitudinal analysis of the success of pretrial programming and drug monitoring. After observing 200 pretrial hearings, the findings indicated that judges rarely used pretrial programming and when they did, it often took on a punitive form. Other important factors judges used in decision-making included employment/schooling, the willingness of families to take responsibility for the defendants, and criminal history. Those observations also showed that family members took on various roles during the pretrial process including novices, experts, cheerleaders, advocates, melodramatics, and gallery commentators. Finally, a competing risks analysis of the 2006 wave of the State Court Processing Statistics dataset showed that pretrial programming was associated with lower risk of rearrest , which was consistent over time. Drug monitoring was not associated with a lower risk of rearrest.




Useem, Purdue University.

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