Leading in National Standards

Standards for pretrial release were first established and published by the American Bar Association (ABA) in 1968.  In 1977, the National District Attorneys’ Association (NDAA) included standards for pretrial release in its National Prosecution Standards (revised 1992). In 1978, the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA) received a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to develop national professional standards for what was still a new field. The third edition of the NAPSA standards (2005) built upon the 1978 standards (which were reissued by NAPSA as a second edition in 1998) and the third edition of the ABA Standards on Pretrial Release (2002).

The ABA and NAPSA standards specify several core services that pretrial services programs should provide.[i]  Chief among these standards is the use of the least restrictive conditions of release that reasonably will assure the defendant’s appearance in court and protect public safety; and that financial bond should be used only when no other condition reasonably will assure the defendant’s return to court, and at an amount that is within the ability of the defendant to post. These and the NDAA Standards strongly encourage the use of non-financial release, the use of financial release only when non-financial options are not sufficient to ensure appearance, and the abolition of commercial surety bail.

PSA is in the forefront of achieving this national standard. On average in the District of Columbia, 80% of persons arrested and charged with a crime are released to the community, either on personal recognizance or with supervised release conditions. Another 15% are preventively detained. Only 5% are released or held on financial bond. 

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (1990-2004), nationally, the rate of pretrial release for felony-charged defendants has remained at approximately 60%.[ii]  And, while there was a 13% increase in the use of financial pretrial release nationally, the District’s use of financial bond has remained minimal. The District’s data reflect leadership in the application of ABA, NAPSA and NDAA standards regarding least restrictive conditions of release for defendants and use of financial bond.

[i] Pretrial Services Programming at the Start of the 21st Century: A Survey of Pretrial Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, July 2003.

[ii] Pretrial Release of Felony Defendants in State Courts, 1990-2004, Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC, November 2007.