Statistical Results of Bail Practices in Selected Federal Courts

GGD-82-51: Published: Feb 23, 1982. Publicly Released: Feb 23, 1982.

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In 1978, GAO made a study of the Federal bail process and the operations of pretrial service agencies gathering extensive data on defendant profile characteristics, bail conditions imposed, failure to appear for trial rates for defendants on bail, and the extent to which defendants on bail were charged with new crimes. The information developed was based on random statistical samples gathered in eight Federal district courts. GAO has updated its statistics for four Federal district courts providing data for calendar years 1978, 1979, and 1980.

Since 1978, there have been significant changes in rates of release, failure to appear, and new crime in the four Federal court districts which have pretrial service agencies. While released-on-bail rates for all defendants have increased in each district, the rate of crimes committed by those on bail has steadily declined. Unlike the trend in crime rates among defendants on bail, changes in failure-to-appear rates have been inconsistent among the four districts. For defendants charged with drug offenses, the failure-to-appear rates have decreased in three of four districts. For all 10 Federal district courts having pretrial services, GAO found consistent trends in the rates for release on bail, failure to appear, and new crimes. While there have been relatively small decreases in the release rates for defendants in the 10 districts as a whole, there have been consistent declines in the new crime and failure-to-appear rates. These statistics indicate that pretrial service agencies are having positive effects on the bail process. By interviewing defendants and verifying information about them, making bail recommendations, supervising defendants released to their custody, and helping selected defendants obtain needed social services, pretrial service agencies are assisting the courts in making better bail decisions and are contributing to the downward trends in failure-to-appear and new-crime rates among defendants on bail. Recent statistics on Federal district courts without pretrial service agencies are unavailable.

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