Costs of Pretrial Detention

30 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2016 Last revised: 11 May 2017

See all articles by Shima Baradaran Baughman

Shima Baradaran Baughman

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law

Date Written: 2016


Spending on U.S. incarceration has increased dramatically over the last several decades. Much of this cost is on incarcerating pretrial detainees — inmates not convicted of a crime — which constitute the majority of individuals in our nation’s jails. Current statutory schemes give judges almost complete discretion to order pretrial detention based on unexplained or unidentified factors. With this discretion, judges tend to make inconsistent decisions in every jurisdiction, some releasing almost all defendants — including the most dangerous — and others detaining most defendants — even those who are safe to release. There are constitutional and moral reasons to evaluate our current detention scheme, but even the fiscal impact of pretrial detention alone calls for an empirical analysis. Although legal scholarship has applied cost-benefit analysis to other areas of criminal law, this Article is the first attempt at conducting such analysis in the pretrial arena. This Article compares the risk posed by each defendant and the cost of any crimes they may potentially commit while released with the costs incurred by detaining these defendants. The results show that relying on the cost-benefit model provided here, judges could bring significant savings - approximately $78 Billion, increased safety, and potentially more equitable pretrial detention decisions.

Suggested Citation

Baughman, Shima Baradaran, Costs of Pretrial Detention (2016). Boston University Law Review, Vol 97(1) 2017, University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 160, Available at SSRN:

Shima Baradaran Baughman (Contact Author)

University of Utah - S.J. Quinney College of Law ( email )

383 S. University Street
Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0730
United States

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