The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention

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If you are released ahead of your trial date, you’re 14 percent less likely to be found guilty, according to an American Economic Review study. Compared to those who can’t make bail and are held in pretrial detention, your economic outlook is better too, researchers concluded in a study of court records in Philadelphia and Miami-Dade counties.

Larger effects were observed for individuals with no prior offenses in the previous year.

The study authors, noting that “little is known about the impact of pretrial detention,” examined data linking over 420,000 individuals arrested and charged for criminal offenses to administrative court and tax records in Philadelphia County between 2007 and 2014, and Miami-Dade County between 2006 and 2014.

They concluded that while pretrial detention may benefit society in some circumstances “by increasing court appearances or by reducing future crime,” the long-term benefits to both individuals and society may balance those risks.

Their paper, entitled “The Effects of Pretrial Detention on Conviction, Future Crime, and Employment: Evidence from Randomly Assigned Judges,” found that individuals released before trial “are substantially less likely to be convicted of any offense due to a reduction in guilty pleas.”

They also found “that those who are released pretrial receive more favorable plea deals than those who are detained.”

The study concludes by conducting a partial cost-benefit analysis that “accounts for administrative jail expenses, costs of apprehending defendants, costs of future crimes, and economic impacts on defendants.” The researchers estimate that the net financial benefit to the charged individual of pretrial release at the margin (cases in which bail judges disagree about bail conditions) is between $55,143 and $99,124 per individual.

Citing figures showing that more than half a million individuals are detained before trial on any given day—the world’s highest pre-incarceration rate—the authors said it was worth considering policy alternatives that kept people out of detention until their trial date.

“Our results suggest that it may be welfare-enhancing to use alternatives to pretrial detention, at least on the margin,” the authors said. “For example, to the extent that recidivism rates are not appreciably higher than under pretrial detention, electronic monitoring may provide many of the same benefits of detention without the substantial costs to defendants documented in our analysis.”

The authors of the paper, published in the February 2018 issue of the American Economic Review were Will Dobbie, Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University; Jacob Goldin, Assistant Professor of Law at Stanford University; and Crystal S. Yang, Assistant Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.

This study is available for download here by purchase only. Journalists can get a free copy by sending an email request to

This summary was prepared by TCR news intern John Ramsey. Readers’ comments are welcome.

One thought on “The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention

  1. Pingback: The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention. If you are released ahead of your trial date, you’re 14% less likely to be found guilty. Compared to those who can’t make bail and are held in pretrial detention, your economic outlook is better too | Inmate New

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