Pretrial Release, Own Recognizance Release & Bail Reform Process Facts

Q. What do Pretrial Release and Own Recognizance Release mean?

If an arrestee is not considered a threat to the community or flight risk, a judge may release that person to a taxpayer-funded county agency prior to the start of his or her trial. 

Own Recognizance Release allows the judge to release someone without consequences if the suspect agrees to attend all court appearances.

Q. What if someone on Pretrial Release or Own Recognizance Release does not show up for court?

In the event a defendant does not appear for court, a warrant is entered into the state system. However, due to lack of manpower, large caseloads and financial resources, a proactive effort by authorities to find the defendant is rare.

In Knox County alone, there are 50,000 unserved warrants. Other major counties in the state like Hamilton, Davidson and Shelby will not release this information.

Q. How much does it cost to fund Pretrial Release and Bail Reform programs?

Because the programs are fairly new, there are not state-by-state financials available. 

The estimates In states with established programs:

  • New York: $200 million

  • New Jersey: $500 million

  • California: Between $1 billion - $3 billion

The estimated cost for Kentucky, a neighboring state to implement these programs is $30 million. 

Knox County, TN has estimated that they will have to add at least 6 employees to effectively manage their Pretrial Release program.

Q. What is the success rate of Pretrial Release and Own Recognizance Release versus traditional financially-secured bail bond release?

A study conducted by the Department of Justice over the course of 15 years examined the pretrial practices of the 75 largest counties across the county. The research was done to determine which method of release was the most effective in ensuring the defendants’ appearance in court. 

Surprisingly, the results were in the same in each of the 15 years . The most effective type of release for ensuring appearance in court was financially-secured bonds with an 18% Failure to Appear (FTA) rate. The two least effective were Own Recognizance Release with a 26% FTA and Pretrial Release with 30% FTA.

Q. Why is there such a dramatic difference in success rates?

If a defendant is released on a financially-secured bail bond and fails to appear in court, the licensed bail bond agent is accountable for the full amount of the bond. Therefore, there will be substantial effort put forth to find and retrieve the defendant. However, with Own Recognizance or Pretrial Releases, law enforcement officials may lack the manpower, financial resources or motivation to find the defendant, especially if he or she has crossed state lines. 

Q. How do risk assessment tools work to determine the Pretrial Release of a criminal defendant?

The best-known method for determining Pretrial Release is the Screening Assessment, created by the Arnold Foundation. Theoretically, the assessment can predict whether a defendant will show up for court and/or commit another crime. As the FTA data shows, there is no evidence supporting the accuracy of this assessment, or the alleged scientific algorithm. Elected officials, law enforcement and judicial officials also recognize the flaws in this assessment model.

Q. What are some of the most egregious examples of where the risk assessment tools have failed and defendants were released before the trial?

Thousands of dangerous criminal defendants have been released through Pretrial Release based on risk assessment programs. 

Some examples include:

In a message to the state of Utah, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez is on record saying Pretrial Risk Assessment tools and other bail bond reforms have perpetuated a “catch-and-release revolving door criminal justice system.”

Q. What impact does Pretrial Release or Own Recognizance Release have on the victims of these crimes?

In many cases, victims are not granted a “day in court” to see the perpetrator punished accordingly because he or she fails to appear. Often, victims are unable to access information from the county about the status of the case. This leaves victims helpless and their perpetrators free to commit additional crimes.  

Q. What is the impact on the bail bond industry?

Thousands of bail bond agents have already lost their jobs or closed their businesses in California, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Texas and other states. In addition, a heavy burden is put on taxpayers for the government to implement these expensive programs. As one example, the New Jersey judiciary has said the state will run out of money funding these programs, despite two years of planning and $130 million reserved for their use.  The state will need millions of additional tax dollars to recover. 


  • Tennessee Association of Bail Bond Agents

  • The American Bail Association

  • The Indiana Surety Bail Association

  • The Unites States Department of Justice, Bureau of Statistics

  • New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez

  • Bob Andrzejczak – Assemblyman, First Legislative District, New Jersey

  • Community and Advocacy Groups, New York

  • Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval

  • Libby Szabo – County Commissioner, Jefferson County, CO

  • Peter Weir, District Attorney, First Judicial District, CO

  • Sheriff Jeff Shrader, Jefferson County, CO

  • New Jersey Fraternal Order of Police

  • Honorable Steve White, President, Alliance of California Judges