U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Pretrial Risk Assessment: Science Provides Guidance on Assessing Defendants

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2015
6 pages
Using a question-and-answer format, this Issue Brief presents an overview of the features, uses, and performance of an empirically derived pretrial risk assessment tool (PRAT), which is defined as "one that has been demonstrated through an empirical research study to accurately sort defendants into categories showing their likelihood of having a successful pretrial release - that is, they make all their court appearances and are not arrested on new charges."
In assessing a defendant's risk level, the PRAT guides two decisions: whether to release or detain a defendant pretrial; and if released, the assignment of appropriate release conditions. Most validated PRATs contain similar risk factors. One set pertains to criminal history/system involvement, and the other set relates to stable community ties. Numerous studies have shown that empirically derived PRATs can accurately differentiate defendants' risk for reoffending or failing to appear at pretrial hearings. If a jurisdiction wishes to develop its own empirically derived PRAT, it should employ an experienced researcher to lead this effort. If an existing PRAT from another jurisdiction is selected, a researcher should revalidate the PRAT using defendants processed in the jurisdiction; however, there is an expectation that a universal PRAT will soon be available that can be used in any jurisdiction. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation is currently in the final stages of developing such a tool. This brief also discusses the challenges and limitations of pretrial risk assessment and how PRATs differ from tools that assess needs or are used post-adjudication. 13 notes

Date Published: May 1, 2015