National Pretrial Reporting Program Series

Investigator(s): Pretrial Services Resource Center

The National Pretrial Reporting Program project was initiated in 1983 by the Pretrial Services Resource Center with funding from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) to determine the feasibility of a national pretrial database. Specifically, the project sought to determine whether accurate and comprehensive pretrial data can be collected at the local level and subsequently aggregated at the state and federal levels. Before this project began, there was no national system for regularly tracking information on persons and cases from the point they entered the local court system until they were adjudicated and sentenced, nor was it clear that such a system could be established. The project was developed in three phases and each phase has taken the program closer to its goal of providing BJS with reliable and valid data on the movement of defendants through the criminal court system. Phase 1 of the project, though limited to three jurisdictions, demonstrated that baseline data could be collected to describe how criminal defendants are processed through the courts. Phase II of the project not only focused on the collection and analyses of the data, but was also concerned with the procedural methods necessary to devise a national baseline data collection project. Although there were problems encountered and lessons learned in Phase II, the findings confirmed that a national effort could be undertaken. In the summer of 1987, Phase III of the program was developed. Changes incorporated in Phase III were a direct result of the lessons learned from Phase II, with the goal of achieving a more accurate and representative database. To accomplish this, significant changes were made, particularly in four areas: site selection, defendant sampling, site personnel training, and targeted charge. A more ambitious project was envisioned as well, with the project targeting 40 jurisdictions for data collection. Another major change in Phase III concerned the decision to target felony defendants only, since many of the ongoing BJS projects were limited to felony defendants. The data collected in the period 1988-1993 provide a picture of felony defendants' movements through the criminal courts and what happens during the course of their journey.