Pretrial Supervision

Supervision header

What is the goal of pretrial supervision?

Most people who get arrested will appear in court and stay out of trouble if released before trial. Others will perform better with supervision—some combination of monitoring and support designed to increase their chances of success while in the community. By identifying which individuals will benefit from support and providing it at the appropriate level, jurisdictions can optimize pretrial liberty without compromising public safety and court appearance.

What kinds of monitoring and support are needed?

Pretrial supervision involves reminding people of upcoming court dates and supporting their compliance with any conditions the court may require when authorizing their release, such as check-ins, stay-away orders, curfews, and drug testing.

Courts have discretion in setting pretrial conditions, and the law requires an “individualized” assessment for each arrested person. Courts can use these assessments to craft a customized plan to support each individual’s pretrial success.

Research shows that imposing unnecessary conditions actually decreases a person’s likelihood of pretrial success. Requiring three in-person check-ins per week during working hours, for example, could cause people to lose the jobs where they are expected to be during those same hours.

Who does the pretrial supervision?

Released individuals’ compliance with release conditions set by the court can be monitored by existing agencies that already perform similar duties with sentenced individuals. Probation and parole agencies, for example, already maintain regular contact with clients and manage conditions compliance.

Many jurisdictions have, or will want to create, a dedicated pretrial services agency. Establishing these agencies involves some initial costs, but in the long term they can save money and increase public safety by reducing inappropriate pretrial detention, increasing court appearance rates, and lowering arrests for new criminal activity.

What happens if someone violates a condition (technical violations)?

In the event that someone fails to adhere to the conditions of his or her release, the supervising agency would examine nature of the violation and, where required, report it to the court. In some cases, increasing the person’s monitoring and support intensity may help both the person and the courts continue to meet the goal of those conditions. In other cases, a return to custody may be called for. Placing a person in custody for a technical violation can be counterproductive, however, as it may result in lost jobs, housing instability, and other disruptions that destabilize defendants and their families.

Additional considerations

Avoid blanket conditions

People in the pretrial justice system are legally presumed to be innocent; any monitoring conditions must be lawfully connected to a specific risk identified by the court. Blanket conditions—those given to all people regardless of risk level or personal history—do not meet this requirement. Requiring all individuals charged with a drug crime to undergo drug testing, regardless of their history, for example, is a blanket condition that violates the right to an individualized assessment.

Avoid fee-for-service pretrial monitoring

Relying on risk assessment and tailored monitoring and support can eliminate the use of money bond as a condition of release. However, requiring people to pay for the costs of such monitoring is unfair in the same way and may cause many of the negative results that money bail does. (For a discussion on the questionable legality of fee-based pretrial conditions, see State of the Science of Pretrial Release Recommendations and Supervision, pages 11-14.)

If your jurisdiction would like support on how to craft monitoring services within its existing structure, please reach out to PJI at


More Resources

Risk Based Pretrial Release Recommendations & Supervision Guidelines
Risk Based Pretrial Release Rec & Superv Guidelines - Danner, VanNostrand, & Spruance 2015.pdf
2.4 MiB

Jefferson County, Colorado, Court Date Notification Program: FTA Pilot Project Summary
Jefferson County Colorado Failure to Appear Pilot Project Summary (2005).pdf
17.3 KiB

State of the Science of Pretrial Release Recommendations and Supervision
PJI State of the Science Pretrial Recommendations and Supervision (2011).pdf
546.2 KiB

Supervised Pretrial Release 1985 Study
Supervised Pretrial Release 1985 Study.pdf
2.1 MiB

529.6 KiB

Queens County Supervised Release Program: Impact on Court Processing and Outcomes
Queens County Supervised Release Program- Impact on Court Processing ad Outcomes - CJA 2013.pdf
253.7 KiB

Court Appearance Notification System: 2007 Analysis Highlights
Multnomah County Oregon - CANS Highlights 2007.pdf
190.5 KiB

Court Appearance Notification System: Evaluation Highlights
Multnomah County Oregon CANS Cost Benefit 2006.pdf
113.3 KiB

Reducing Failure to Appear in Nebraska: A Field Study
Reducing Failure to Appear (Nebraska Lawyer, September 2010).pdf
126.6 KiB