NC CRED Pretrial Release Subcommittee

African Americans are 66%

more likely to be in jail pretrial than white defendants.

The Commission’s Pretrial Subcommittee (PTSC) is collecting data on pretrial release practices in several North Carolina counties. The PTSC’s goal is to identify the extent to which racial disparities exist in various North Carolina’s pretrial release processes. Pretrial detention is an important area to study because bail determinations have a number of “spillover” effects on later criminal justice outcomes. Defendants detained before trial plead guilty more often, are convicted at a higher rate, and are sentenced to jail or prison more often than those who are released.


African Americans are sixty-six percent more likely to be in jail pretrial than white defendants.


Latino defendants are ninety-one percent more likely to be detained pretrial.


Defendants placed in pretrial detention are 4 times more likely to be incarcerated and receive sentences eighty-six percent longer than those release pretrial.

National research on pretrial detention and bail decision making consistently indicates that minority defendants are more likely to be held in jail prior to adjudication and minorities are assigned higher bail amounts than whites. NC-CRED does research to determine why this is—whether other factors (for example, criminal history or poverty) account for these differences or if there are practices and/or policies that allow bias to impact bail decision.

2014 Report on Race & Bail in Halifax County

Our first study in Halifax County found racial disparities in the length of stay on pretrial detention and in the average bond amounts. However, after controlling for criminal and failure to appear history, race did not have a statistically significant impact on the bond amounts in Halifax County. Because our sample size was so small, we are replicating the research and increasing our sample size to 500. The results of the raw data (prior to controlling for criminal and failure to appear history) prompted us to pilot a Risk Assessment in Halifax to ensure bail decisions were equitable (see below for more information).


Black Defendants


White Defendants

Black defendants, unable to post bond, spent a mean of 303 days in jail, whereas white defendants who were unable to post bond spent only a mean of 125 days in jail.


Difference in Average Bond Amounts 0%

On average, bonds for black defendants ($19,710) were 28% higher than they were for white defendants ($15,385). Our results indicate this is mostly due to criminal and failure to appear histories of our sample defendants.

Advocating for Pretrial Risk Assessments

NC-CRED is working with Halifax County officials to implement a risk assessment there, based on Virginia’s Pretrial Risk Assessment. In our pilot project that tested the instrument, we found that:

  • Bond amounts were not increasing proportionate to the risk level of defendants.
  • Magistrates consistently set bonds above the upper limit suggested by the bond policy. For lower level felonies and misdemeanors (but excluding DWIs), the bonds are being set at or above the upper suggested limit 65% of the time, on average.
  • Risk assessments are used to guide discretion effectively so that pretrial release decisions can be made based on factors that are known to impact whether or not a defendant will show up for his/her court date.

Low risk pretrial detainee population0%

Low risk Black pretrial detainees0%

15% of the pretrial detainee population in Halifax were low risk, charged with a misdemeanor or low-level felony, and had a median bond of $2,000.00. This population should not be detained pretrial. 77% of these low risk pretrial detainees were Black.

Forthcoming Statewide Survey of Race & Bail

Our current research looks at the relationship between race and bond in 1500 cases from counties across the state.

In Phase I, we’ll identify three counties that have racially disproportionate pretrial detention outcomes so that we can do an in-depth analysis on the relationship between race and bond. In Phase II we’ll look at 500 defendants from each of the three counties identified in Phase I, and control for criminal and failure to appear history.

Furthermore, we’ll determine how presumptive bond amounts differ across the state, what counties have pretrial service agencies, and which counties use tools such as a pretrial risk assessment.

This map highlights the first ten counties in our analysis: Bertie, Chatham, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Halifax, Hertford, North Hampton, Orange, and Wake. These results are from Phase I of our research, which does not include controlling for criminal history. This data covers all Class H felonies in each county for the years 2010-2012.

The scale indicates the difference in average bond amounts between white defendants and defendants of color. All amounts are statistically significant at p-value ≤ 0.05 except Hertford and Northhampton counties.

Upcoming PTSC Events