Bail Bond Study Seeks to Predict No-Shows for Criminal Trials

Prof Links Type of Jail Release to Likelihood Dallas County Defendants Will Appear in Court

Private bail bond companies may have an edge when it comes to getting criminal defendants to show up for their court dates, according to a new study by UT Dallas criminologist Dr. Robert Morris, director of the Center for Crime and Justice Studies.

Dr. Robert Morris

The study was conducted by Dr. Robert Morris, director of the Center for Crime and Justice Studies.

The study examined differences in failure to appear (FTA) in court and re-arrest among over 22,000 Dallas County criminal defendants released from the county jail during 2008 through different release mechanisms.

“The study isolated the effects of particular bond, or release, types,” Morris said. “We found that similarly situated defendants released via a bail bond company were significantly less likely to fail to appear in court compared to attorney bonds, cash bonds and pretrial services bonds, respectively.”

Jailed defendants typically have several options available to secure release before their court hearings, including attorney bonds, cash bonds and commercial bonds.

Each time a defendant fails to appear for a court date it costs the county approximately $1,775, on average, in operating expenses. Over the course of a year, this adds up to millions of wasted tax dollars.

In Dallas County, about 25 percent of all defendants released pre-trial failed to appear, but the rate varied between felonies and misdemeanors.

“Many factors go into whether a defendant appears and/or re-offends down the road. The purpose of this study was to determine whether a particular release mechanism itself played a role and if so, what are the associated costs,” Morris said. “These initial findings suggest that in Dallas County, commercial bail bonds may be the most cost-effective means of pretrial release in terms of getting defendants (both felony and misdemeanor) to show up to court.”

Dallas County Jail

About 25 percent of defendants released from the Dallas County jail failed to appear for their trials, the study reported.

The findings on recidivism were not as clear cut.

“Recidivism is more complicated, and timing plays a role,” Morris said. “For example, when looking at recidivism for felony and misdemeanor defendants separately, there were no differences in rates between pretrial services and commercial bonds.”

Commercial bonds, as it turns out, are the most commonly used mechanism among defendants for pre-trial release. About two-thirds of eligible inmates are released through bondsmen in Dallas County, followed by cash bonds, pretrial services and attorney bonds.

Morris added that caution is needed before applying these findings to defendants across the board – both inside and outside Dallas County.  Differences across specific offense types will also need further examination.

“We hope these findings will lead to more cost-effective practices for pre-trial release mechanisms, all of which play a vital role in the criminal justice process,” Morris said. “This was one data set, and it provided a solid baseline. The next steps are to replicate the study with newer data and for other major jurisdictions. Then we can start to explore why many defendants are not showing up for court.”

The full research report is available at the Center for Crime and Justice Studies’ website.

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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