Examining Judicial Pretrial Release Decisions: The Influence of Risk Assessments and Race

On average there are over 450,000 individuals in pretrial detention across the United States, despite research noting the considerable economic and social costs of these practices. Previous research on pretrial decision-making shows that legal (e.g. offense severity) and extra-legal factors (e.g. race and gender) exert a strong influence on judicial bond decisions. What is missing in the research is examination of how validated risk assessments tools influence pretrial release decisions. This study examines these relationships by using a sample of 25,617 defendants in Jefferson County, Kentucky from 2014 to 2017. Using logistic regression the study finds that being black, having committed a felony offense, possessing a moderate or high qualitative risk score (failing to appear and committing a new offense), and possessing a high risk of committing a new violent offense increases the likelihood of receiving a financial bond requirement for release; while being female decreases the likelihood of receiving a financial bond. Further the study finds that interactions between race and each of the two risk assessment scores also have a statistically significant influence on pretrial release decisions. The implications and limitations of the study are also discussed.