74 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2011 Last revised: 21 Mar 2012
Date Written: February 6, 2011
The last several years have seen a marked rise in state and federal pretrial detention rates. There has been little scholarly commentary or even analysis of whether this increased detention is reducing pretrial crime. Though in the 1960s to 1980s several studies discussed whether it was possible to predict which defendants would commit crimes while released pretrial, the disagreements were tabled and there has largely been silence on these issues since then. With recent improvements in empirical methods, we can more clearly analyze data to determine what factors are reliable predictors of who will commit pretrial crime. As a result we can also determine whether more defendants can safely be released pretrial without increasing crime rates.
This article uses the largest dataset of pretrial defendants in the U.S. to determine what factors, if any, are relevant in predicting “dangerousness” pretrial and what percentage of defendants can be released safely before trial. Prior work in this area disagrees as to whether the current charge or past convictions are relevant as predictors of future crimes, whether flight risk is linked to pretrial violence, and whether judges can accurately predict which defendants are dangerous. Indeed, most previous work relies on small scale local studies. Our analysis, in contrast, relies on the most current national data for over 100,000 defendants over a fifteen year period from a representative sample of urban counties in the United States. Our analysis suggests several important conclusions including that 25% more defendants may be able to be released pretrial while decreasing crime levels and not increasing danger to the public.
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