The Heavy Costs of High Bail: Evidence from Judge Randomization

45 Pages Posted: 6 May 2016 Last revised: 15 Nov 2016

Arpit Gupta

NYU Stern School of Business

Christopher Hansman

Columbia University, Barnard College - Department of Economics

Ethan Frenchman

Maryland Office of The Public Defender

Date Written: August 5, 2016

Abstract

In the United States, roughly 450,000 people are detained awaiting trial on any given day, typically because they have not posted bail. Using a large sample of criminal cases in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, we analyze the consequences of the money bail system by exploiting the variation in bail-setting tendencies among randomly assigned bail judges. Our estimates suggest that the assignment of money bail causes a 12% rise in the likelihood of conviction, and a 6-9% rise in recidivism. Our results highlight the importance of credit constraints in shaping defendant outcomes and point to important fairness considerations in the institutional design of the American money bail system.

Keywords: bail, bond, detention, incarceration, pretrial, pre-trial, arraignment, recidivism, plea, randomization, instrumental variable

Suggested Citation

Gupta, Arpit and Hansman, Christopher and Frenchman, Ethan, The Heavy Costs of High Bail: Evidence from Judge Randomization (August 5, 2016). Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 45, No. 2, 2016; Columbia Law and Economics Working Paper No. 531. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2774453 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2774453

Arpit Gupta (Contact Author)

NYU Stern School of Business ( email )

New York, NY
United States

HOME PAGE: http://arpitgupta.info

Christopher Hansman

Columbia University, Barnard College - Department of Economics ( email )

3009 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Ethan Frenchman

Maryland Office of The Public Defender ( email )

6 St. Paul Street
Baltimore, MD 21202
United States

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