News Release

Pretrial Programs Released More Defendants Before Trial, Decreased Rearrest Rates

Report says use of risk assessment tools, support services, and reminder systems show promise in reducing rearrests and failures to appear
Jul 21, 2023

SAN FRANCISCO—The Judicial Council at its July 21 business meeting received the final report on California’s pretrial pilot program showing its overall positive effect on courts, defendants, and the public. Those positive outcomes included more defendants released pretrial with less rearrests.

A study of the program tracked more than 422,000 defendants awaiting trial in 17 superior courts. The study showed:

  • Pretrial programs increased the release of people facing misdemeanors by 5.7% and by 8.8% for those arrested for felonies
  • Pretrial programs decreased the likelihood of rearrest for people awaiting trial by 5.8% for people booked on misdemeanors and by 2.4% for those booked on felonies

Pretrial programs can also decrease the time defendants spend in jail awaiting release. For example, defendants in Sonoma County's pretrial program spent an average of 14 hours in jail before release compared to 71 hours for defendants released through cash bail.

“That first entrance into the criminal court system is one of the most critical steps in the process,” said Justice Marsha Slough, who helped present the pretrial report to the council. “We as judges owe it to those who come before us to look at them, look at their situation, and not look at a cold bail schedule to determine how they will be addressed.”

Judicial Council Meeting July 21, 2023

More photos from today's Judicial Council meeting

The pretrial study was an unprecedented collaboration among the courts, probation, and sheriff departments, with each entity collecting and providing data for the final report, supplemented by data from the state Department of Justice.

Goals of Pretrial Release Pilot Program
The fiscal year 2019-20 state budget earmarked $75 million for the council to launch and evaluate pretrial projects in 17 superior courts. Their goals: to “increase the safe and efficient release of arrestees before trial, use the least restrictive monitoring practices possible while protecting public safety and ensuring court appearances, validate and expand the use of risk assessment tools, and assess any bias in the process.”

In addition to using risk assessment tools, the pilot courts also provided a variety of support services to defendants in the pretrial programs, including transportation vouchers​, lodging assistance, and mental health services.

In fiscal year 2021-22, the state budget added ongoing funding to implement pretrial release programs statewide. The Judicial Council and local jurisdictions have held educational sessions on how to implement pretrial programs for stakeholders, including judicial officers, probation personnel, court staff, justice partners, and the public.

Failure to Appear Rates Improved with Reminder Systems
In addition to lower rearrest rates, the pretrial study found a 6.8% decrease in the number of defendants who failed to appear (FTA) for court-ordered appearances in misdemeanor cases; however, it identified a 2.5% increase in failure-to-appear rates in felony cases.

Chart showing failure to appear and rearrest rates for the pretrial pilot program

But failure to appear rates can greatly improve with a court date reminder system, which included both manual and automated phone calls and text messages. A separate study by the court in Alameda County showed its reminder system improved court appearance rates from 47% to 87%. By the end of the three-year pilot program, 14 courts had implemented reminder systems, and now most trial courts in the state also have reminder systems.

The study also notes that as courts decrease the time it takes for cases to resolve post-COVID-19, failure to appear rates may also decrease.

First Large-Scale Evidence of Risk Assessment Tool Accuracy in California
The 17 pilot courts were required to use a pretrial risk assessment tool to inform decisions by judicial officers about pretrial release. Pretrial risk assessment tools use data to assess the likelihood an arrested person will fail to appear in court or will commit a new offense during the pretrial period. In a separate report, the pretrial risk assessment tools used by the pilots were rigorously studied and found to accurately estimate a defendant’s risk.


Chart showing release rates by race for pretrial pilot program

Pretrial Programs Mitigated Release Disparities in Misdemeanor Cases
While implementation of the statewide pretrial program increased pretrial releases among all populations, positive effects were especially large for Black individuals. Before program implementation, Black and Hispanic defendants booked on misdemeanors were 1.2% less likely to be released pretrial compared to White defendants booked on similar charges. After program implementation, Black defendants were 3% more likely to be released compared to White defendants, while Hispanic defendants had no
significant difference in pretrial release rates
compared to White defendants booked on similar charges.

At the conclusion of the report to the council on the pretrial study and its significance, Justice Slough offered that the study shows how the justice system should treat defendants and can help lead to “changes in the pretrial arena for our state.” Watch

Council Recognizes Justice Slough for Extraordinary Service
Council members honored the service of Justice Marsha Slough, who will retire Aug. 31, after two decades of service as a judicial officer and nearly a decade as a Judicial Council member and leading voice on key judicial branch initiatives. Among the speakers were Judge Kyle Brodie, who told Justice Slough he admired “your work, your vision, your ability to bring people together, to keep us honest, to keep us focused on the oath that we all took, the goal of serving the public… if you can leave the world a little better than you found it, then that counts as a success. I cannot count the ways that you have made us all better…you have been such an example in just what it means to be a good judge and a good person.”

Other Items on Council Meeting Agenda:

Judicial Branch Technology Funding: The council approved the allocation of state funding to trial and appellate courts to encourage innovation, collaboration, and expanding the use of technology. Those technology goals include improved case management systems, remote services, and cybersecurity. Watch

Tactical Plan for Technology: The council approved an update to the tactical plan that describes the judicial branch’s efforts to further enhance technology in the courts, improve services, and meet the needs of court users and the public. Those efforts include expanding online services, electronic evidence management, and language access technology. Watch

Trial Court Funding: The council agreed to allocate funding provided in the fiscal year 2023-24 state budget for trial court operations, employee benefits, pretrial programs, and implementation of the Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment (CARE) Act. Watch

Budget Change Proposals: The council voted to submit 10 budget change proposals to the California Department of Finance for consideration in the fiscal year 2024-25 budget. The proposals ask for increased funding for the branch’s highest priorities, including new judgeships, self-help services, courthouse maintenance, and the court-appointed counsel program. Watch

Courthouse Naming Policy: The council adopted a revision to its naming policy for newly constructed, renovated, and existing courthouses to provide consistency when naming them after location and case type or a person. Watch

Legal Assistance Grants for Civil Cases: The council approved grants to qualified legal services providers and court partners to provide legal representation and improved court services to low-income parties—regardless of their citizenship or immigration status—in civil matters involving housing-related matters, domestic violence and civil harassment restraining orders, probate conservatorships, guardianships, elder abuse, or actions by a parent to obtain legal or physical custody of a child.

The complete council meeting agenda and council reports are posted to the California Courts Meeting Information Center. A link to a live webcast of the meeting will be on the California Courts website on the day of the meeting.