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Unsecured Bonds: The Most Effective and Efficient Pretrial Release Option

NCJ Number
Michael R. Jones
Date Published
October 2013
26 pages

This study examined the simultaneous influence of unsecured bonds (personal recognizance bonds with a monetary amount set) and secured bonds (surety and cash bonds) on public safety, court appearance, and jail bed use.


The study findings support the greater use of unsecured pretrial releases, because they achieved the same public safety results and court appearance rates as secured bonds while using significantly fewer jail beds. These unsecured bonds could be used in conjunction with an individualized bond-setting hearing. The findings held true for defendants whose risk to public safety and for failure to appear at court hearings was lower, moderate, or higher. In addition, unsecured bonds were as effective as secured bonds in achieving "fugitive return" for defendants who failed to appear at a court hearing. Study data came from the dataset used to develop Colorado's 12-item empirically derived pretrial risk-assessment instrument, the Colorado Pretrial Assessment Tool (CPAT). This dataset has hundreds of case-processing and outcome variables collected on 1,970 defendants booked into 10 Colorado county jails over a 16-month period. Each local jurisdiction collected data on a pre-determined, "systematic random sampling" selection schedule in order to minimize bias in selecting defendants and to improve the generalizability of the findings. Just over 80 percent of the State's population lives in the 10 counties that participated in the study. Defendants were assessed for their pretrial risk; nearly 70 percent scored in the lower two of court risk categories. 10 tables, 2 figures, and 15 references