Does Bail Reform Increase Crime? An Empirical Assessment of the Public Safety Implications of Bail Reform in Cook County, Illinois
49 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2020 Last revised: 26 Sep 2021
Date Written: February 19, 2020
Recently bail reform issues have been in the news across the country, as concerns about fair treatment of defendants and possible public safety risks from expanding pretrial release have collided. These issues involve important empirical questions, including whether releasing more defendants before trial leads to additional crimes. An opportunity to investigate this public safety issue has developed in Chicago, our nation’s third largest city. There, the Office of the Chief Judge of the Cook County Courts adopted new bail reform measures in September 2017 and reviewed them empirically in May 2019. Cook County’s Bail Reform Study concluded that the new procedures had released many more defendants before trial without any concomitant increase in crime. This article disputes the Study’s conclusions. This article explains that, contrary to the Study’s assertions, the new changes to pretrial release procedures appear to have led to a substantial increase in crimes committed by pretrial releasees in Cook County. Properly measured and estimated, after more generous release procedures were put in place, the number of released defendants charged with committing new crimes increased by 45%. And, more concerning, the number of pretrial releasees charged with committing new violent crimes increased by an estimated 33%. In addition, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, the Study’s data appears to undercount the number of releasees charged with new violent crimes; and a substantial number of aggravated domestic violence prosecutions prosecutors dropped after the changes, presumably because batterers were able to more frequently obtain release and intimidate their victims into not pursuing charges. These public safety concerns call into question whether the bail “reform” measures implemented in Cook County were cost-beneficial. And because Cook County’s procedures are state-of-the-art and track those being implemented in many parts of the country, Cook County’s experience suggests that other jurisdictions may similarly be suffering increases in crime due to bail reform.
Keywords: bail reform, pretrial release, violent crime
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