Optimal Bail and the Value of Freedom: Evidence from the Philadelphia Bail Experiment

55 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2008

See all articles by David Abrams

David Abrams

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

Chris Rohlfs

Syracuse University

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: August 2007


This paper performs a cost-benefit analysis to determine socially optimal bail levels that balance the costs to defendants against the costs to other members of society. We consider jailing costs, the cost of lost freedom to incarcerated defendants, and the social costs of flight and new crimes committed by released defendants. We estimate the effects of bail amounts on the fraction of defendants posting bail, fleeing, and committing crimes during pre-trial release, using data from a randomized experiment. We also use defendants' bail posting decisions to measure their subjective values of freedom. We find that the typical defendant in our sample would be willing to pay roughly $1,000 for 90 days of freedom. While imprecise, our optimal bail estimates are similar to the observed levels of bail prior to bail reform.

JEL Classification: J17, J19, K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Abrams, David S. and Rohlfs, Chris, Optimal Bail and the Value of Freedom: Evidence from the Philadelphia Bail Experiment (August 2007). U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 343, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=995323 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.995323

David S. Abrams (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Chris Rohlfs

Syracuse University ( email )

Center for Policy Resarch
426 Eggers Hall
Syracuse, NY 13244
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www-cpr.maxwell.syr.edu/

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