Managing Pretrial Release

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To minimize any risks that arrested defendants might pose to public safety, the state needs to make two key decisions at the "front-end" of the criminal justice system: Is the charge worth pursuing? And if so, should arrested accused persons be released pending trial or held in detention?

This Open Society Justice Initiative monograph focuses on the latter question, and discusses how best to manage the pretrial release/detention decision.

The problems and opportunities around the issue of pretrial detention are particularly prescient in Mexico due to the large number of people entering the Mexican criminal justice system each year, and ambitious criminal justice reforms being undertaken in a number of the country’s federal states. A number of Mexican states have introduced legislative reforms that provide judges with broad discretion to release defendants awaiting trial, and make available a wide array of pretrial release and supervision options. Additionally, on May 2008 the Mexican Constitution was reformed, introducing a new legal framework to manage pretrial detention.

To effectively use their new discretion and balance public safety with the rights of the accused, judges and other criminal justice actors need tools that reduce the uncertainty otherwise involved in making pretrial release decisions.

This monograph seeks to assist decisionmakers during this critically important time of criminal justice reform, by promoting and enriching the debate around the problem of pretrial detention in Mexico. It discusses the use of pretrial evaluation and supervision services as a complete tool for rationalizing the use of pretrial detention, compares pretrial evaluation and supervision services as a cohesive program to standalone evaluation schemes and supervision schemes, and presents three case studies of attempts in Latin America to implement evaluation programs (in Ecuador and Costa Rica) and a bail supervision program (in Mexico).

Pretrial evaluation and supervision services have the potential to balance an individual’s right to liberty with society’s interest in public security. In Mexico, pretrial evaluation and supervision services can play a key role in reversing the decade-old trend of escalating numbers of pretrial detainees.

The full study is available for download in Spanish.