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Pretrial Risk Assessment

The federal Pretrial Risk Assessment (PTRA) is a scientifically based instrument developed by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) and used by United States probation and pretrial services officers to assist in determining a defendant’s risk of failure to appear, new criminal arrests, or technical violations that may lead to revocation while in the pretrial services system.

In conjunction with a thorough pretrial services investigation, the PTRA helps officers make well-informed decisions when making release or detention recommendations to the court. Officers’ investigations and recommendations represent critical components in the criminal justice process to reasonably ensure the future appearance of defendants in court, while ensuring the safety of the community.

The United States probation and pretrial services system embraces evidence-based practices (EBP), which employ the best available scientific data to influence release and detention decisions. A key element of the evidence-­based approach is the use of risk assessment instruments to achieve maximum, measurable reductions in pretrial failure rates.

Using the PTRA in combination with their professional judgement, officers can make informed decisions about which people are suitable for release recommendations and help inform possible supervision strategies.

The PTRA gives officers an accurate, evidence-based assessment of:

  • A person’s failing to appear.
  • His or her revocation or new criminal activity.
  • Whether the person should be recommended for release or detention.

On this page, you will find links to important documents that provide more information about the PTRA.

Research Articles from Federal Probation Journal

Federal Probation Journal is published each June, September, and December by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and presents current thought, research, and practices in corrections, community supervision, and criminal justice.

Revalidating the Federal Pretrial Risk Assessment Instrument (PTRA): A Research Summary (September, 2018)

Are Pretrial Services Officers Reliable in Rating Pretrial Risk Assessment Tools (September, 2018)

Federal Pretrial Release and Detention Reduction Outreach Program (DROP) (September, 2018)

Implementing Risk Assessment in the Federal Pretrial Services System (September, 2011)

The Re-validation of the Federal Pretrial Services Risk Assessment (PTRA) (September, 2012)

The Development of an Actuarial Risk Assessment Instrument for U.S. Pretrial Services (September, 2009)

Pretrial Risk Assessment in the Federal Court (September, 2009)

Evidence-Based Practices in Federal Pretrial Services (September, 2008)

Related Research

This article is from publications not a part of the federal Judiciary and may require an account to access:

The Limits of Human Predictions of Recidivism (2020) Science Advances