Does Cash Bail Deter Misconduct?

59 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2019 Last revised: 12 May 2022

See all articles by Aurelie Ouss

Aurelie Ouss

University of Pennsylvania

Megan T. Stevenson

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: January 1, 2022


Courts routinely use low cash bail as a financial incentive to ensure that released defendants appear in court and abstain from crime. This can create burdens for defendants with little empirical evidence on its efficacy. We exploit a prosecutor-driven reform that led to a sharp reduction in low cash bail and pretrial supervision, with no effect on pretrial detention, to test whether such incentive mechanisms succeed at their intended purpose. We find no evidence that financial collateral has a deterrent effect on failure-to-appear or pretrial crime. This paper also contributes to the literature on legal actor discretion, showing that non-binding reforms may have limited impact on jail populations.

Keywords: bail, prosecutors, criminal justice reform, pretrial detention

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Ouss, Aurelie and Stevenson, Megan, Does Cash Bail Deter Misconduct? (January 1, 2022). Available at SSRN: or

Aurelie Ouss

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Megan Stevenson (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

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