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Bail bond concept. Gavel and dollar banknotes.

The economics of bail and pretrial detention

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Patrick Liu

Senior Research Assistant - The Hamilton Project

Ryan Nunn

Assistant Vice President for Applied Research in Community Development - Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis

Two thirds of the jail population and one quarter of the total incarcerated population consist of pretrial detainees. These shares have risen over time, fueling questions about the impacts of pretrial detention and the system of monetary bail that largely governs it. New research indicates that pretrial detention has a substantially negative economic impact on individuals, disrupting their labor market activities and causing increased recidivism. In addition to summarizing this research, we characterize key trends in pretrial detention and the bail system: increasing use of money bail, increasing time from arrest to adjudication, and rising median bail requirements, all of which have occurred across major offense categories. We conclude by discussing costs and benefits of money bail and the bail bonds industry.


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