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Performing Foundational Research

Performing Foundational Research

There is a glaring need in the criminal justice field for research to answer foundational questions about the way the system currently functions and how it can be improved. LJAF conducts research into key pretrial issues and has published a number of studies, which are outlined below.

The Effect of Pretrial Detention on Sentencing: Two separate LJAF-funded studies—one using federal court data and another using data from two state courts—showed that detained defendants were significantly more likely to be sentenced to jail or prison, and to receive longer sentences, than defendants who were released before trial.

The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention: This groundbreaking study, based on an analysis of more than 60,000 Kentucky defendants, demonstrated something that many criminal justice professionals had long suspected: For low- and moderate-risk defendants, pretrial detention is strongly associated with higher rates of recidivism both in the pretrial period and one and two years after case disposition. Moreover, for periods of up to 14 days, recidivism (both pretrial and post-disposition) increased in correlation to the length of pretrial detention. While the study does not prove causation, it strongly demonstrates the need for more research into whether pretrial detention is having unintended consequences.

The Impact of Pretrial Supervision: This study showed that when moderate- and high-risk defendants were released to supervision, they were more likely to appear in court than unsupervised defendants. It also found that those under pretrial supervision for 180 days or more were less likely to commit a new crime during the pretrial period. However, additional research is needed since models of supervision vary widely and may have different effects on different populations.

Assessing Pretrial Risk without a Defendant Interview: This study, using data from Kentucky, found that costly and time-consuming defendant interviews, which have prevented many jurisdictions from using pretrial risk-assessment tools, are not necessary. It showed that a new pretrial risk assessment, based only on information readily available in administrative records, could accurately forecast the likelihood that a defendant would commit a new crime or fail to appear for a court date if released.

LJAF is also creating resources to help jurisdictions learn from one another and establish best practices. We are bringing leading thinkers and practitioners together to identify areas in need of reform and to develop the pathways to address these challenges.