NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 18, 2007

Between 1990 and 2004, 62 percent of felony defendants in state courts in the 75 largest counties were released prior to the disposition of their case.  Beginning in 1998, financial pretrial releases, requiring the posting of bail, were more prevalent than non-financial releases. This increase in the use of financial releases was mostly the result of a decrease in the use of release on recognizance (ROR), coupled with an increase in the use of commercial surety bonds, according to findings by the State Court Processing Statistics (SCPS) program, sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

According to the bureau:

  • Among defendants detained until case disposition, 1 in 6 had been denied bail and 5 in 6 had bail set with financial conditions required for release that were not met; the higher the bail amount set, the lower the probability of release.
  • About 7 in 10 defendants secured release when bail was set at less than $5,000, but this proportion dropped to 1 in 10 when bail was set at $100,000 or more.
  • Murder defendants were the least likely to be released pretrial; defendants charged with rape, robbery, burglary, and motor vehicle theft also had release rates lower than the overall average.
  • The highest release rate was for defendants charged with fraud.


  • Compared to release on recognizance, defendants on financial release were more likely to make all scheduled court appearances.
  • Defendants released on an unsecured bond or as part of an emergency release were most likely to have a bench warrant issued because they failed to appear in court.

Further, the probability of failing to appear in court was higher among defendants who were black or Hispanic, had an active criminal justice status at the time of arrest, or had a prior failure to appear.

Source: By Thomas H. Cohen and Brian A. Reaves, "Pretrial Release of Felony Defendants in State Courts," Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 2007.


Browse more articles on Government Issues