RESEARCH REPORT PRETRIAL RELEASE MECHANISMS IN DALLAS COUNTY, TEXAS: DIFFERENCES IN FAILURE TO APPEAR (FTA), RECIDIVISM/PRETRIAL MISCONDUCT, AND ASSOCIATED COSTS OF FTA*
Prepared by: Robert G. Morris, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Criminology Director, Center for Crime and Justice Studies The University of Texas at Dallas 800 West Campbell Rd, GR 31 Richardson, Texas 75080-3021 (972) 883-6728 [email protected]
This study was completed on behalf of the Dallas County (Texas) Criminal Justice Advisory Board (CJAB).
DISCLAIMER No attempt by the research investigator, Professor Robert Morris, or the University of Texas at Dallas, will be made to explain the reasons behind the findings presented within this report. Nor will recommendations be made as to how the county should, or should not, respond to these findings. The information presented is driven solely by the data provided by Dallas County and caution should be used in any attempt to generalize these findings to other counties. The computer programming written to extract the data for analysis, as well as those used to established model estimates, will be made publically available upon request to ensure research transparency and objectivity. Any audit of this programming by a qualified professional/s is welcomed. Contact Robert G. Morris, Ph.D. with questions: [email protected]
2 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Relative to other elements of the criminal justice system, pretrial release and the mechanisms by which it operates, has received little attention from scholars and empirical research is lacking. To date, no study has been carried out that has focused on pretrial release mechanisms at the county level and their isolated effects on failure to appear (FTA) and recidivism/pretrial misconduct. Further, it remains unclear whether the costs associated with one particular form of release outweigh the costs of another. While a handful of studies have explored failure to appear and recidivism across release types, they have been limited by data problems or problematic research designs. The purpose of this study was to address a number of very important issues that underlie pretrial release from jail, specific to varying mechanisms of release including: attorney bonds, cash bonds, commercial bonds, and pretrial services bonds.1 Archival data was culled from official records collected by the Dallas County criminal justice system as well as from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). The analyses presented here were based on all defendants booked into the Dallas County jail during 2008 for a crime/s in which the defendant was not previously arrested/jailed, and who were released via one of the above noted release mechanisms (n = 22,019). Specifically, this study addresses the following questions: (1) Do failure to appear (FTA) rates vary across release mechanisms and if so, by how much? (2) Does recidivism/pretrial misconduct vary across release mechanisms and if so, by how much? (3) What are the additional court costs (observed and estimated) associated with FTA rates across release types? and (4) What are the strongest predictors of FTA across each release mechanism? Methods and Findings. Regarding FTA and recidivism/pretrial misconduct, this study approximated an experimental research design to provide for an objective “apples-to-apples” empirical analysis (propensity score matching). This analysis suggested that net of other effects (e.g., criminal history, age, indigence, etc.—see technical appendix), defendants released via commercial bonds were least likely to fail to appear in court compared to any other specific mechanism. This finding was consistent when assessed for all charge categories combined and when the data were stratified by felony and misdemeanor offenses, respectively. For felony defendants (among the matched pairs), those not released on commercial bond were between 39 and 56 percent more likely to fail to