Bail, Jail, and Pretrial Misconduct: The Influence of Prosecutors

49 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2019 Last revised: 19 Jan 2020

See all articles by Aurelie Ouss

Aurelie Ouss

University of Pennsylvania

Megan T. Stevenson

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty

Date Written: January 17, 2020


After years of growth in incarceration, people across the aisle are now asking how to scale back the reach of criminal justice. Recent attempts have focused on electing reform-minded prosecutors (who are believed to be very powerful agents in criminal justice) and reducing the use of cash bail. There is little research on the effectiveness of either strategy; our paper fills this gap. In February 2018, Philadelphia's district attorney announced that his office would no longer request monetary bail for defendants charged with certain eligible offenses. First, using a difference-in-differences approach, we document a 22% increase in the likelihood a defendant will be released with no monetary or supervisory conditions, but no effects on pretrial detention. With novel court observation data, we find suggestive evidence that the impact of the policy was attenuated by discretion held both by line prosecutors and bail magistrates. Second, we provide one of the first evaluations of the effect of financial collateral (the most common form of pretrial experience in the United States) and supervision among released defendants. We find no evidence that a reduction in the use of monetary bail and supervisory conditions leads to increased failure-to-appear in court or crime. This suggests a discrepancy between pretrial policies that use monetary penalties as a deterrent and the motivation for defendant behaviors; it also suggests that bail practices may have violated constitutional prohibitions against excessive bail.

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

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Ouss, Aurelie and Stevenson, Megan, Bail, Jail, and Pretrial Misconduct: The Influence of Prosecutors (January 17, 2020). George Mason Legal Studies Research Paper No. LS 19-08. Available at SSRN: or

Aurelie Ouss

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Megan Stevenson (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Antonin Scalia Law School, Faculty ( email )

3301 Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22201
United States

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