Pretrial Justice Institute
200 East Pratt Street, Suite 4100
Baltimore, MD 21202

(667) 281-9141

Scan of Pretrial Practices

An in-depth snapshot of pretrial practices across the country, and how those real-life behaviors compare with evidence-based practices.


The Pretrial Justice Institute has periodically surveyed jurisdictions about their pretrial practices since its inception in 1977. This 2019 Scan of Pretrial Practices is the most recent, with 89 counties and 2 independent cities nationwide reporting, balanced among high, medium and low-density areas. These surveys provide a snapshot of pretrial practices across the country, and how they are changing.

Key findings of this survey include:

  • Challenges in low- and medium-density areas. Almost 40 percent of low-density jurisdictions were not able to conduct first appearance hearings within 24 hours. Middle- and low-desnity counties were less likely to have options at first appearance such as release on recognizance or release on unsecured bond.

  • Pretrial assessment tools misused frequently. Two out of three counties reported using a pretrial assessment tool, but half of the counties used the tool to set monetary bond, and nearly three out of four used the tools to make the “release or detain” decision, which is not the intended use of a pretrial assessment tool.

  • Lack of due process protections. More than half of counties (53%) said that defense attorneys did not meet with clients before first appearance, and only 45% were present at first appearance.

  • Lack of data on basic pretrial measures. More often than not, jurisdictions lacked data on performance yardsticks, such as rates of pretrial release, court appearance and new charges filed.