The Economics of Bail Jumping

16 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2013

See all articles by Samuel Myers

Samuel Myers

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs

Date Written: 1981


WHY do some defendants, released on personal or property bond or cash bail, fail to appear for their scheduled trial or hearing? This question, considered in this paper, diverges somewhat from the kind of question typically posed within the context of the heated debate over bail reform in America. A frequent query raised in the debate has been: should the bail system be employed to assure appearance at trial or to prevent the defen­dant's commission of further crimes? Another question has been whether the poor, the disadvantaged, the uneducated, or the innocent are punished under a system of bail based on alternative measures of either ability to pay or presumption of guilt.

Recently researchers have begun to address the problem of determinants of bond-forfeiture rates, bail risk, and failure to appear for trial. Paul Wice summarized evidence suggesting that cities that not only actively super­ vise pretrial release but also base releases on criteria related to a defendant's record of past appearances tend to experience lower rates of bond forfeiture. Stephen Clarke et al., who find demographic variables and characteristics of the offense to be insignificant determinants of combined failure to appear at trial and rearrest, observe nevertheless a strong posi­ tive correlation of court delay with bail risk. William Landes, finding characteristics of the offense a significant determinant of bail forfeiture, similarly observes a significant effect of the size of bond on bail risk.

The evidence suggests that bail jumping depends upon the choice be­havior of the defendant and the optimal bail-setting (or pretrial-release) procedure of the court. The latter problem has been investigated in depth by Landes. The principal motivation of this paper, however, is to investi­gate the choice behavior of the bail jumper and to heuristically describe how bail-setting procedures affect the choice to appear for trial. The model sketched in this paper assumes that defendants jump bail when the expected utility of appearing for trial is less than the expected utility of jumping bail. Increasing bail bond, reducing court delay, and releasing defendants on personal bond all could possibly reduce bail jumping. The econometric results confirm that bail jumping is negatively related to re­ lease on recognizance and bail bond. But, controlling for plea bargaining, court delay exhibits a minor inverse relationship to bail jumping.

Keywords: bail jumping, economics, bailing bond, cash bail, court, failure to come to court, results, bond fort-feiture, presumption of guilt

Suggested Citation

Myers, Samuel, The Economics of Bail Jumping (1981). Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 10, p. 381, 1981. Available at SSRN:

Samuel Myers (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs ( email )

301 19th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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