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Section 3: Pretrial Interventions

In many jurisdictions the concept of Targeted Intervention Strategies is synonymous with working with the sentenced population. When asked why this is the case, the two most reoccurring jurisdictional responses are:

  • Not enough time and resources to work with pretrial detainees before they are released.
  • Community safety issues with pretrial release.

In this section, we will highlight the importance of incorporating the pretrial population into your TJC work. First, we will outline some important pretrial population facts, then identify the benefits of targeting pretrial detention for TJC practices and finally, demonstrate that community safety is not put at risk when pretrial detention alternatives are implemented properly.

The Facts

  1. Pretrial inmates make up 61 percent of the jail population around the country.
  2. Pretrial population continues to rise at a higher rate than the sentenced population.
  3. 88 percent of detainees are in jail for a period of time during pretrial because they cannot afford bail.
  4. 53 percent (of the 88 percent) stay in jail the entire pretrial period because they can never raise enough bail money to be released.
  5. Pretrial inmates who cannot post bond stay in jail for an average of 121 days compared to an average of 12 days for those who meet the financial conditions of their release.
  6.  The use of money bail in felony cases has increased from 53 percent in 1990 to 70 percent in 2006.

The facts speak for themselves. A majority of defendants are spending a lot of time in jail throughout the pretrial period. Often times by the time they have plead guilty they have either sat in jail for so long they have served their time and are released, or have only a few weeks left on their sentence to serve.

In many jails comprehensive treatment interventions are reserved for the sentenced population, so the opportunity for many defendants to receive in-jail services is lost because the entire or majority of their sentence is served during the pretrial period.

The Solution

The laws in most jurisdictions require courts to release defendants on the least restrictive conditions necessary to reasonably assure public safety and court appearance.  Validated pretrial risk assessment tools are in use in many jurisdictions that successfully sort defendants into categories showing their risks to public safety and of failure to appear in court.  By using these tools, jurisdictions can match appropriate pretrial release conditions to the identified risk levels of each defendant, and help judges to assure that only those with unmanageable risks remain in jail pending trial.

Jails benefit from this practice since it relieves overcrowding, saves them money and can free up additional space for pretrial and sentenced inmates who present a higher public safety risk to the community.

Lower risk defendants benefit by returning to their jobs, families, and communities where they can receive the support and treatment services they often need.

Is Pretrial Release Safe for the Community?

Empirical research continues to demonstrate that most defendants appear in court as required and are not rearrested on new charges while on pretrial release.  Even those defendants who score in the highest risk level in validated pretrial risk assessments appear in court and remain arrest-free while their cases are pending in a large majority of the cases.  For example, research in Virginia shows that over 90 percent of defendants in the highest risk category make all their court appearances, and 70 percent have no rearrests. Kentucky, which mandates a validated pretrial risk assessment done on every defendant coming before every judge has a re-arrest rate of 8 percent and a failure to appear rate of 10 percent. Though higher than in Virginia, both states have found that using an evidence-based risk assessment instrument increases the success rates beyond those realized using clinical or professional judgment alone to determine release decisions. It is because of these and similar findings that the Conference of Chief Justices, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the American Jail Association, among others, have all called for the use of evidence-based pretrial risk assessment tools to help judges identify the small minority of defendants who pose too great a risk to be released.


Pretrial Justice Institute (2010) Pretrial Services Program Implementation: A Starter Kit. Washington, DC: Pretrial Justice Institute.

Vetter, Stephanie J. and John Clark (2012). The Delivery of Pretrial Justice in Rural Areas: A Guide for Rural County Officials. Washington, DC: National Association of Counties.

1 United States Army, Office of the Division Surgeon, 10th Mountain Division.  Presentation delivered as part of a Trauma Focused Training.  Fort Drum, NY.

2 Fretz, Ralph. 2006. What Makes a Correctional Treatment Program Effective:  Do the Risk, Need, and Responsivity Principles (RNR) Make a Difference in Reducing Recidivism? Kearney, N.J.: Community Education Centers, Inc.

Let's Review

Let's revisit what we have learned so far in the Targeted Interventions Strategies module. Please answer the following question.

Which of the following statements are false?


Now that you have completed this section, you should understand the pretrial defendants make up the majority of the jail population. Many of them are incarcerated because they can’t post money-bond that have been set by the court, and not because of their risk to the community or their failure to appear in court if released. Using evidence-based pretrial risk release instruments will help jurisdictions determine which detainees are good candidates to return to their community pending their court date.