Could Eliminating Cash Bail Save the U.S. Billions?

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Chicago bail protest, 2019. Photo by Charles Edward Miller via Flickr

A new paper suggests that reducing pre-trial detention by eliminating cash bail would generate significant economic returns for accused individuals, their families and communities, and the country as a whole.

The paper, written by professors Will Dobbie and Crystal Yang of Harvard University, was discussed at the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity (BPEA) conference on Thursday.

Dobbie and Yang estimate that eliminating money bail could increase aggregate U.S. income by up to $80.9 billion per year.

More than 10 million people are arrested each year in the United States and, at any point in time, roughly half a million are in pre-trial detention.

The paper notes that pretrial detention decreases the probability of employment three to four years after the bail hearing by 9.4 percentage points and that defendants detained pre-trial lost an estimated $29,001 in income on average over a lifetime compared with defendants who weren’t detained pre-trial.

By reducing pre-trial detention from 38 percent to 10 percent, through reforms such as the elimination of cash bail, roughly 2.8 million fewer people would be detained each year and aggregate U.S. income could vastly increase, the authors say.

To assess the effects of pre-trial detention on individuals, particularly younger people, Dobbie and Yang looked at the employment and income of people arrested in Miami and Philadelphia from 2007 to 2014. Reviewing the evidence in previous research, they note that pretrial detention decreases the probability of employment three to four years after the bail hearing by 9.4 percentage points.

Using a series of assumptions, the study authors estimate that defendants detained pre-trial lost $29,001 in income on average over a lifetime compared with defendants who weren’t detained pre-trial.

Reducing pre-trial detention would produce substantial economic benefits, they argue.

“If you want to improve economic outcomes … you don’t want to just look at changing labor-market policies, you also want to think about reforms to criminal-justice policies,” Yang said in an interview with Brookings. “We think focusing on the pre-trial system is a good place to start.”

See also: Bail Bond Insurers Spent $17m on Lobbying

One thought on “Could Eliminating Cash Bail Save the U.S. Billions?

  1. I am conducting a research study on the collateral impact of unaffordable bail as partial fulfillment of a doctoral degree. Please find the recruitment flyer in the attached link for details.

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