Kentucky Court of Justice
Federal study validates risk-assessment tool used by Kentucky courts for pretrial release

Press Release Date:  Monday, June 20, 2011  
Contact Information:  Jamie Ball
Public Information Specialist
502-573-2350, x 50033

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- As Kentucky reforms its corrections system in favor of evidence-based practices, a federal study shows that the court system’s method for helping judges determine whether to grant pretrial release is a proven success.

The study by the JFA Institute in Washington found that Kentucky has a high pretrial release rate of 74 percent, with low rates of rearrest and failure to appear in court among individuals who were granted pretrial release. The study showed that 93 percent of individuals released remained arrest-free while awaiting trial and 92 percent of those released pending trial appeared in court when required.

The state’s pretrial release, rearrest and failure-to-appear rates are among the best reported by any criminal justice program in the nation, according to the non-profit Pretrial Justice Institute.

The Administrative Office of the Courts, which operates the statewide pretrial services program, commissioned the study to measure the validity of the tool it uses to assess risk among pretrial defendants.

“The results are overwhelmingly positive,” AOC Director Laurie K. Dudgeon said. “The study confirms that Kentucky judges are predicting who should be granted pretrial release with a high rate of accuracy. It also indicates that our risk-assessment tool is key to judges making reliable, informed decisions. I’m pleased that our pretrial process is saving Kentucky money but not at the expense of public safety.”

The JFA study was the first independent examination of any Kentucky pretrial risk-assessment tool since the inception of the statewide Pretrial Services program in 1976. The study was funded by a Bureau of Justice Assistance grant and completed in late 2010.

Kentucky requires its pretrial officers to interview individuals within 12 hours of arrest. Pretrial officers perform an investigation and collect background information. Once they verify the information and conduct a background check, they complete an objective 13-question risk assessment and make a recommendation to the presiding judge on whether to grant pretrial release.

“Kentucky’s pretrial release program is an invaluable tool for judges,” said Pike County Family Court Judge Larry E. Thompson, president of the Kentucky Circuit Judges Association. “We depend on the information pretrial officers provide through the risk assessment to help us make decisions that will ensure the safety of citizens and protect the constitutional rights of those in the criminal justice system.”

A defendant’s release is based on an assessment of his or her flight risk, anticipated criminal behavior and danger to the community. These factors are measured by the defendant’s family ties, employment, education, length of residence, criminal history and other related matters. The current risk-assessment tool was adopted in 2006 and is based on a point system used for two decades.

“Kentucky has excelled in the area of pretrial release,” said Campbell County District Court Judge Karen A. Thomas, president of the Kentucky District Judges Association. “Its risk-assessment tool is one of the best in the country. The work done by Pretrial Services allows the criminal justice system to operate in a safe and efficient manner.” 

The PJI and the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies also praised Kentucky for its achievements in the area of pretrial release.

“Kentucky’s development of a validated statewide tool for assessing pretrial risk sets an evidenced-based standard for other jurisdictions to emulate,” PJI Executive Director Tim Murray said. “Basing a pretrial release decision on individualized, valid pretrial risk factors is a profoundly important step toward a fair, safe and effective pretrial justice system. Kentucky is to be congratulated for this important work and for the contribution it represents to the field.”

“The pretrial movement owes much to Kentucky as it demonstrates that individuals under arrest who are adequately assessed can be safely released into the community during the pretrial process,” NAPSA President Peter C. Kiers said. “In 1976, the state made the bold and courageous move to eliminate commercial bail bonding and replace it with a statewide pretrial program. That decision has ultimately improved its criminal justice system and Pretrial Services continues working to improve the system today. The now-validated risk-assessment tool ensures that recommendations to the courts on pretrial release are consistent, objective and effective.”

Administrative Office of the Courts
The AOC in Frankfort is the operations arm for the state court system and supports the activities of nearly 3,300 court system employees and 403 elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks. As the fiscal agent for the state court system, the AOC executes the Judicial Branch budget.