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Pretrial Services — Judicial Business 2020

The number of cases opened in the pretrial services system (excluding pretrial diversion cases) equaled 80,242, a decrease of 26 percent from 2019. Pretrial diversion decreased 19 percent to 361. The reduction in pretrial services cases has been attributed mainly to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 36 percent of the cases opened, the major offense was related to immigration, down from 42 percent in 2019. Cases in which the major offense charged involved drugs accounted for 28 percent of pretrial services cases (up from 25 percent). Cases associated with property offenses represented 9 percent of cases opened (unchanged from 2019), and cases dealing with firearms offenses represented 12 percent (up 1 percent from 2019). 

Pretrial services officers prepare reports for judges to use in determining whether to order the release or detention of defendants. The reports also give judges information useful for establishing appropriate conditions for released defendants. In 2020, officers prepared 76,723 pretrial services reports (down 26 percent). Ninety-eight percent of the reports were pre-bail reports.

Table 9
Summary of Pretrial Services Cases
Fiscal Years 2016 - 2020
  2016 2017 2018 2019 2020  Percent Change
2019 - 2020
Total Cases Activated 91,709 88,750 99,931 108,163 80,242 -25.8
Pretrial Services Cases 91,111 88,255 99,494 107,720 79,881 -25.8
Pretrial Diversion Cases 598 495 437 443 361 -18.5
Total Released on Supervision 23,592 23,186 23,649 26,116 23,396 -10.4
Pretrial Supervision 22,735 22,469 23,000 25,463 22,857 -10.2
Diversion Supervision 857 717 649 653 539 -17.5
Type of Report            
Pre-Bail 85,988 82,447 92,840 100,360 74,924 -25.3
Other Reports (Including Post-Bail) 2,260 2,654 2,602 2,732 1,799 -34.2
No Report 2,863 3,154 4,052 5,071 3,519 -30.6

A total of 72,719 bail determinations were made by the courts. When immigration cases involving crimes such as illegal reentry are included, 24 percent of all defendants were released on bail. When immigration cases are excluded, the percentage of defendants released was 35 percent. 

A total of 23,396 defendants were received for supervision by pretrial services (down 10 percent). The proportion of defendants in the country illegally continued to affect the number of persons received for supervision, because illegal aliens and defendants charged with immigration offenses are more likely to be detained given their higher risk of failure to appear in court. In 2020, 39 percent of defendants in pretrial services cases were illegal aliens.

For persons under pretrial services supervision, officers monitor compliance with the release conditions set by the courts, provide necessary support services (such as substance abuse treatment and location monitoring), and inform the courts and U.S. attorneys of apparent violations of release conditions. A total of 25,577 defendants were released with specified conditions in 2020. The release condition ordered most often was pretrial services supervision, which was imposed on 90 percent of defendants released, up 2 percent from last year.

Substance abuse treatment and testing were ordered for 41 percent of defendants, down 1 percent from 2019. Substance abuse testing alone (without treatment) was ordered for 14 percent of defendants, up 1 percent from the previous year.

Pretrial diversion is a period of supervision proposed by a U.S. attorney and agreed to by a defendant as an alternative to the prosecution of criminal charges in federal court. Diversion preserves prosecutorial and judicial resources for more serious criminal matters. In 2020, the number of pretrial diversion cases activated decreased 19 percent to 361 and accounted for less than 1 percent of activated cases.

Over the past five years, the number of pretrial services reports prepared has decreased 13 percent, and the number of persons interviewed has dropped 7 percent to 46,988 (not all defendants are interviewed—defendants may decline to be interviewed, and sometimes interviews are not possible—but for each defendant, a pretrial services report is usually written).

For data on pretrial services activity, see Table 9 and the H series of tables.