The Federal Bail Process Fosters Inequities

GGD-78-105: Published: Oct 17, 1978. Publicly Released: Oct 17, 1978.

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Each of the 55,000 criminal defendants who annually enter the federal court system must have a bail hearing before a judicial officer, usually a magistrate. This hearing is important because the magistrate decides the bail conditions under which the defendant may obtain release prior to trial. Pretrial release practices in federal district courts were reviewed to determine if the bail system is used to cause a high rate of appearance without unnecessarily detaining defendants.

Judicial officers have substantial discretion in making bail decisions. As a result, they set widely varying, and in some cases overly restrictive, release conditions because they use bail for differing purposes and weigh the criteria of the Bail Reform Act differently. Consequently, some defendants are jailed, have to pay to be released, or are otherwise restricted while other similarly charged defendants are not so restricted. Judicial officers need more complete and reliable information when making bail decisions. The federal judiciary has not established a system to provide judicial officers with feedback on the results of their bail decisions in relation to the results of other judicial officers and to monitor and evaluate the bail process. The usefulness of pretrial services agencies' (PSA's) supervision and social services functions has not been demonstrated; and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts' evaluation of PSA's will be useful but limited.

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