The Effects of Pre-Trial Detention on Conviction, Future Crime, and Employment: Evidence from Randomly Assigned Judges

59 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2016

See all articles by Will Dobbie

Will Dobbie

Princeton University

Jacob Goldin

Stanford Law School

Crystal Yang

Harvard Law School

Date Written: August 2016

Abstract

Over 20 percent of prison and jail inmates in the United States are currently awaiting trial, but little is known about the impact of pre-trial detention on defendants. This paper uses the detention tendencies of quasi-randomly assigned bail judges to estimate the causal effects of pre-trial detention on subsequent defendant outcomes. Using data from administrative court and tax records, we find that being detained before trial significantly increases the probability of a conviction, primarily through an increase in guilty pleas. Pre-trial detention has no detectable effect on future crime, but decreases pre-trial crime and failures to appear in court. We also find suggestive evidence that pre-trial detention decreases formal sector employment and the receipt of employment- and tax-related government benefits. We argue that these results are consistent with (i) pre-trial detention weakening defendants' bargaining position during plea negotiations, and (ii) a criminal conviction lowering defendants' prospects in the formal labor market.

Suggested Citation

Dobbie, Will and Goldin, Jacob and Yang, Crystal, The Effects of Pre-Trial Detention on Conviction, Future Crime, and Employment: Evidence from Randomly Assigned Judges (August 2016). NBER Working Paper No. w22511. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2823319

Will Dobbie (Contact Author)

Princeton University ( email )

Jacob Goldin

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

Crystal Yang

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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