Pretrial Support: Analysis Tools for Safe and Smart Bail System

community corrections

Pretrial Support: Analysis Tools for Safe and Smart Bail System

This is part of the Tools for Safe and Smart Bail System Changes blog post series. You can read the introduction and find other posts in the series here.


In the quest to improve pretrial outcomes, the use of pretrial support has emerged as a crucial tool. Pretrial support encompasses a range of measures and resources designed to minimize the risk of defendants failing to appear in court or being rearrested. Unlike traditional bail conditions, which are mandatory, pretrial support is voluntary and aims to address underlying issues that may contribute to a defendant’s involvement in the criminal justice system. By identifying and addressing these needs, pretrial support can increase defendants’ presence at scheduled court hearings while also reducing risks to the community.

Understanding Pretrial Support

Pretrial support involves various tools and practices aimed at providing defendants with the necessary resources to improve their lives and comply with court requirements. One important component of pretrial support is the use of needs assessments. These assessments help identify the specific needs of defendants, such as access to housing, mental health services, or substance abuse treatment. By understanding these needs, pretrial support programs can tailor their services to address them effectively.

It’s important to note that needs assessments are different from risk assessments. While risk assessments focus on identifying individuals with a higher likelihood of flight or safety risk, needs assessments aim to identify the resource and treatment needs of defendants to reduce the probability of pretrial failure. Needs assessments are typically short, publicly available, and can be administered by non-clinical staff.

Types of Pretrial Support

Pretrial support can take various forms and encompass different practices. The goal of these support tools is to provide defendants with the necessary resources and assistance to improve their lives and comply with court requirements. Some popular types of pretrial support include:

  1. Court Reminders: These tools help defendants remember their court dates and provide important information about preparation and consequences of missing court appearances.
  2. Housing Assistance: Providing access to stable housing can address housing instability, which is often a root cause of criminal behavior.
  3. Mental Health Treatment: Connecting defendants with appropriate mental health services can help address underlying issues that may contribute to criminality and reduce the chances of reoffending.
  4. Substance Abuse Treatment: Similar to mental health treatment, connecting defendants with substance abuse treatment services can help address addiction issues and reduce the likelihood of reoffending.
  5. Job Training and Employment Support: Assisting defendants in gaining employment or acquiring job skills can improve their economic stability and decrease the likelihood of criminal behavior.
  6. Transportation Assistance: Lack of reliable transportation can hinder defendants’ ability to make court appearances. Providing transportation assistance can help ensure defendants can attend their scheduled court hearings.
  7. Childcare Support: Lack of adequate childcare can also pose challenges for defendants. Offering childcare support can help defendants fulfill their parental responsibilities while attending court hearings.

Addressing Concerns and Challenges

Pretrial support programs aim to address concerns related to court nonappearance and public safety while also addressing underlying issues that may contribute to flight or safety risk. While the bail system often overlooks these underlying issues, pretrial support seeks to provide defendants with the necessary resources to address them effectively.

One concern surrounding pretrial support is the potential infringement on individuals’ rights. Mandatory measures, such as pretrial supervision check-ins or compulsory counseling, may be seen as coercive and could potentially violate defendants’ rights. To mitigate this concern, support tools should be offered voluntarily, and punitive measures should only be applied to address court nonappearance and new criminal activity, not a defendant’s decision to use a support tool.

Another challenge is the accessibility of pretrial support for low-income defendants. Some support tools, such as court reminders or electronic monitoring, may rely on technology that not all defendants have access to. Additionally, certain support services may come with a fee that some defendants cannot afford. It is essential to ensure that pretrial support programs are accessible to all defendants, regardless of their financial situation, to avoid exacerbating existing inequalities within the justice system.

Implementing and managing pretrial support programs can also be costly and resource-intensive. Some critics argue that these programs may divert resources from other critical areas of the justice system, potentially compromising overall efficiency and fairness. It is crucial to balance the allocation of resources to ensure that pretrial support programs are effective while also addressing other important aspects of the criminal justice system.

Effectiveness of Pretrial Support

Needs assessments can be effective tools when used in the pretrial phase. By identifying the unique needs and challenges of individuals awaiting trial, needs assessments can inform the development of tailored pretrial support programs. However, the efficacy of needs assessments in pretrial contexts depends on their appropriate and thoughtful implementation. Research suggests that needs assessments may be more effective when used alongside risk assessments, which focus on identifying individuals with a higher likelihood of flight or safety risk.

The effectiveness of different pretrial support tools varies. While there is ample research on tools such as court reminders and pretrial services, the efficacy of social needs support or mental health treatment is less well-studied. However, some studies have shown positive outcomes for pretrial support programs, such as reduced failures to appear and reoffending rates.


Improving pretrial outcomes requires a shift in focus from the traditional bail system to pretrial support. By addressing defendants’ underlying needs and providing them with appropriate resources, pretrial support programs can increase court appearance rates and reduce public safety concerns. However, it is crucial to ensure that pretrial support programs are implemented thoughtfully, respecting defendants’ rights and addressing the unique challenges they face. By doing so, the criminal justice system can promote fairness, efficiency, and improved outcomes for all involved parties.

This article is based on the original blog post series “Tools for Safe and Smart Bail System Changes” by