Place Matters: Racial Disparities in Pretrial Detention Recommendations Across the U.S.
18 Pages Posted: 12 Feb 2023
Date Written: February 11, 2023
Federal pretrial services officers assess defendants and make influential recommendations that defendants be either released or detained, based on their threat to community safety and risk of flight. To inform efforts to reduce disparities in pretrial detention, we examined officers’ detention recommendations for 149,815 Black and White defendants across 81 districts. Here, we focus on the association between place - that is, U.S. district and geographic region - and racial disparities in detention recommendations.// First, we found that place “mattered.” Despite moderate racial disparity nationally (RR=1.34), districts generally ranged from no disparity (RR=0.99) to strong disparity (RR=1.99) - and in ten districts, the probability of a detention recommendation was over 200 percent higher for Black than White defendants. Ideally, efforts to reduce disparities would prioritize the places where disparities are most pronounced and/or detention rates are highest. Second, we found that districts with the greatest racial disparities in detention recommendations were predominantly in the Northeast and Midwest; and those with the most modest disparities were predominantly in the South. //Although this finding may seem counterintuitive, it is consistent with our hypothesis that disparity would be greatest in places with the greatest structural inequality. In places where pretrial disparities are bundled with broader indices of racialized social inequality (e.g. poverty, residential segregation), pretrial reform efforts alone will not eliminate racial inequality. It is essential to also address “root causes” of involvement in crime that include socioeconomic disadvantage, residential segregation, and limited educational and job opportunities, and more.
Keywords: Pretrial detention, race, disparity, place, bias
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