Skip to main content

Exploring Alternatives to Cash Bail: An Evaluation of Orange County’s Pretrial Assessment and Release Supervision (PARS) Program


This evaluation examines the impact of a pretrial risk assessment and supervised release program on pretrial release rates, judicial bail determinations, and failure to appear (FTA) rates among non-violent felony defendants in Orange County, CA. The results indicate that program implementation was not associated with a significant increase in pretrial release rates. However, defendants who received supervised release under the program were significantly less likely to FTA than similarly situated defendants who were released on cash bail. The results therefore suggest that pending bail reform measures in California and elsewhere, which replace cash bail with risk assessment screening and non-monetary supervised release, can be implemented without sacrificing appearances in court.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    Bail refers to “the process of releasing a defendant from jail or other governmental custody [prior to trial] with conditions set to reasonably assure public safety and court appearance” (Pretrial Justice Institute 2015, p.2). In the U.S., defendants must typically post a cash “bond” in order to meet bail requirements and obtain pretrial release (Pretrial Justice Institute 2015, p.2). The bond is returned only if the defendant appears for all scheduled court dates, thereby providing an incentive for the defendant to attend all required court appearances.

  2. 2.

    S.B. 10 excludes misdemeanor arrestees from automatic pretrial release if they are suspected of certain specified crimes, such as domestic violence offenses (Cal. Stat. 2018).

  3. 3.

    Statistics-based risk assessment instruments are instruments whose predictive validity has been established through statistical analysis techniques.

  4. 4.

    These are the only months in 2015 for which release data on all PARS-eligible defendants were available from the .OC. Superior Court.

  5. 5.

    This item asks whether an arrestee has been employed or served as a primary caregiver continuously for the 2 years prior to his or her arrest.


  1. Andrews, D. A., Bonta, J., & Hoge, R. D. (1990). Classification for effective rehabilitation: Rediscovering psychology. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 17(1), 19–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Appleman, L. I. (2012). Justice in the shadowlands: Pretrial detention, punishment, & the sixth amendment. Washington & Lee Law Review, 69, 1297–1369.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Ayres, I., & Waldfogel, J. (1993). A market test for race discrimination in bail setting. Stanford Law Review, 46(5), 987.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bechtel, K., Flores, A. W., Holsinger, A. M., & Christopher, T. L. (2016). Trademarks, press releases, and policy: Will rigorous research get in the way? Federal Probation, 80(1), 22–29.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bechtel, K., Holsinger, A. M., Lowenkamp, C. T., & Warren, M. J. (2017). A meta-analytic review of pretrial research: Risk assessment, bond type, and interventions. American Journal of Criminal Justice, 42(2), 443–467.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Bechtel, K., Lowenkamp, C. T., & Holsinger, A. (2011). Identifying the predictors of pretrial failure: A meta-analysis. Federal Probation, 75(2), 78–86.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Bureau of Justice Statistics [BJS]. (2010). State court processing statistics data limitations. Washington, D.C.: Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  8. Cadigan, T. P., & Lowenkamp, C. T. (2011). Implementing risk assessment in the federal pretrial services system. Federal Probation, 75(2), 30–34.

  9. California [Cal.] Constitution [Const.] art. I, § 3.

  10. California Senate Bill [S.B.] 10, Chapter 244 (Cal. Stat. 2018). (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  11. Cooprider, K. (2009). Pretrial risk assessment and case classification: A case study. Federal Probation, 73(1), 12–15.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Danner, M. J. E., VanNostrand, M., & Spruance, L. M. (2015). Risk-based pretrial release recommendation and supervision guidelines. Luminosity. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  13. DeMichele, M., Baumgartner, P., Barrick, K., Comfort, M., Scaggs, S., & Misra, S. (2018a). What do criminal justice professionals think about risk assessment at pretrial? (Accessed 9 October 2019).

  14. DeMichele, M., Comfort, M., Misra, S., Barrick, K., & Baumgartner, P. (2018b). The intuitive-override model: Nudging judges toward pretrial risk assessment instruments. (Accessed 9 October 2019).

  15. Demuth, S. (2003). Racial and ethnic differences in pretrial release decisions and outcomes: A comparison of Hispanic, Black, and White felony arrestees. Criminology, 41(3), 873–908.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Dobbie, W., Goldin, J., & Yang, C. S. (2018). The effects of pretrial detention on conviction, future crime, and employment: Evidence from randomly assigned judges. American Economic Review, 108(2), 201–240.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Eskridge, C. (1981). Predicting and protecting against failure to appear in pretrial release: The state of the art. Washington, D.C.: Pretrial Services Resource Center.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Goldkamp, J. S., & Gottfredson, M. R. (1988). Development of bail/pretrial release guidelines in Maricopa County Superior Court, Dade County Circuit Court and Boston Municipal Court. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  19. Goldkamp, J. S., & Vilcica, E. R. (2009). Judicial discretion and the unfinished agenda of American bail reform: Lessons from Philadelphia’s evidence-based judicial strategy. In A. Sarat (Ed.), Special issue: New perspectives on crime and criminal justice (Vol. 47, pp. 115–157). U.K.: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  20. Goldkamp, J. S., & White, M. (2006). Restoring accountability in pretrial release: The Philadelphia pretrial release supervision experiments. Journal of Experimental Criminology, 2(2), 142–181.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Harris, P. (2006). What community supervision officers need to know about actuarial risk assessment and clinical judgment. Federal Probation, 70(2), 8–14.

    Google Scholar 

  22. In re Humphrey 19 Cal. App. 5th 1006 (Cal. App. 5th 2018).

  23. Kamins, B. (2019). Bail, discovery and speedy trial: The new legislation. New York Law Journal. (accessed 18 June 2019).

  24. Latessa, E. J., & Lovins, B. (2010). The role of offender risk assessment: A policy maker guide. Victims and Offenders, 5(3), 203–219.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Lomax, R. G., & Hahs-Vaughn, D. L. (2012). An introduction to statistical concepts. New York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Lowenkamp, C. T., Lemke, R., & Latessa, E. (2008). The development and validation of a pretrial screening tool. Federal Probation, 72(3), 2–9.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Lowenkamp, C. T., & Whetzel, J. (2009). The development of an actuarial risk assessment instrument for US Pretrial Services. Federal Probation, 73(2), 33–36.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Mamalian, C. A. (2011). State of the science of pretrial risk assessment. Pretrial Justice Institute. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  29. National Institute of Justice [NIJ]. (2001). Pretrial services programming at the start of the twenty-first century: A survey of pretrial services programs. Washington, D.C.: Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice (

    Google Scholar 

  30. Pretrial Justice Institute. (2015). Glossary of terms and phrases relating to bail and the pretrial release or detention decisions. Pretrial Justice Institute. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  31. Rabuy, B., & Kopf, D. (2016). Detaining the poor: How money bail perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty and jail time. Prison Policy Initiative. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  32. Rahman, I. (2018). The state of bail: A breakthrough year for bail reform. Vera Institute of Justice. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  33. Reaves, B. A. (2013). Felony defendants in large urban counties, 2009 - Statistical tables. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  34. Robinson, C. R., VanBenschoten, S., Alexander, M., & Lowenkamp, C. T. (2011). A random (almost) study of Staff Training Aimed at Reducing Re-arrest (STARR): Reducing recidivism through intentional design. Federal Probation, 75(2), 57–63.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Romo, V. (2018). California becomes first state to end cash bail after 40-year fight. National Public Radio. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  36. Saks, M., & Ackerman, A. R. (2014). Bail and sentencing: Does pretrial detention lead to harsher punishment? Criminal Justice Policy Review, 25(1), 59–77.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Schlesinger, T. (2005). Racial and ethnic disparity in pretrial criminal processing. Justice Quarterly, 22(2), 170–192.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Stevenson, M. (2018). Assessing risk assessment in action. Minnesota Law Review, 103, 303–384.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Tafoya, S. (2015). Pretrial detention and jail capacity in California. Public Policy Institute of California. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  40. Tafoya, S., Bird, M., Nguyen, V., & Grattet, R. (2017). Pretrial release in California. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  41. Ulloa, J. (2018). Bail bond industry moves to block sweeping California law, submitting signatures for a 2020 ballot referendum. Los Angeles Times. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  42. U.S. Census Bureau (2018). Table 1. Top 10 most populous counties: 2017. Retrieved December 11, 2018, from (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  43. VanNostrand, M. (2003). Assessing risk among pretrial defendants in Virginia: The Virginia Pretrial Risk Assessment Instrument. Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  44. VanNostrand, M. (2015). Measuring and managing pretrial risk: Improving public safety, fairness, and cost effectiveness. California Pretrial Summit. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  45. VanNostrand, M., & Keebler, G. (2009). Pretrial risk assessment in the federal court. Federal Probation, 73(2), 3–29.

    Google Scholar 

  46. VanNostrand, M., & Rose, K. J. (2009). Pretrial risk assessment in Virginia. Virginia Department of Criminal Justice. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  47. VanNostrand, M., Rose, K. J., & Weibrecht, K. (2011). In pursuit of legal and evidence-based pretrial release recommendations and supervision. Virginia Pretrial Services Agencies. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

  48. White, I. R., Royston, P., & Wood, A. M. (2010). Multiple imputation using chained equations: Issues and guidance for practice. Statistics in Medicine, 30(5), 377–399.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Zeng, Z. (2018). Jail inmates in 2016. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics. (Accessed 13 February 2019).

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Matt Barno.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Barno, M., Martínez, D.N. & Williams, K.R. Exploring Alternatives to Cash Bail: An Evaluation of Orange County’s Pretrial Assessment and Release Supervision (PARS) Program. Am J Crim Just 45, 363–378 (2020).

Download citation


  • Pretrial
  • Bail
  • Supervised release
  • Program evaluation