Bail, Jail, and Pretrial Misconduct: The Influence of Prosecutors
59 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2019 Last revised: 22 Jun 2020
Date Written: June 20, 2020
Dozens of jurisdictions across the country are engaging in bail reform, but there are concerns that reducing monetary incentives will increase pretrial misconduct. We provide new evidence on this question by evaluating a prosecutor-led bail reform in Philadelphia. In February 2018, Philadelphia’s district attorney announced that his oﬃce would no longer request monetary bail for defendants charged with certain eligible oﬀenses. This was an advisory change; bail magistrates retained ﬁnal say. Using a diﬀerence-in-diﬀerences approach we ﬁnd that this policy led to a 22% increase in the likelihood a defendant will be released with no monetary or supervisory conditions, but had no impact on pretrial detention. This provides a unique opportunity to evaluate the primary justiﬁcation for cash bail: that it provides incentive for released defendants to appear in court. We ﬁnd no evidence that cash bail or pretrial supervision has a deterrent eﬀect on failure-to-appear or pretrial crime. We argue that one explanation is that asymmetric reputational penalties cause magistrates to set bail higher than necessary. In addition, our study provides evidence on the role of discretion within criminal justice reform. We ﬁnd that discretion led to racial disparities in implementation, and diluted the impacts of the reform.
Keywords: bail, prosecutors, criminal justice reform, pretrial detention
JEL Classification: K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation