What is it about?

Most people who are arrested and booked into jail in the United States must pay bail to be released for the pretrial period. But decades of research document how harmful the money bail system is to people, especially people of color and people who are poor. In efforts to move away from reliance on money bail, many courts have started using pretrial risk assessment instruments to inform release decisions. Ideally, these instruments can demonstrate how low risk for failure to appear in court or pretrial rearrest most people are and encourage judges to release more people pretrial without requiring them to pay bail. In this paper, we found that bail amount was not associated with either failure to appear or rearrest. In contrast, pretrial risk assessment scores were significantly associated; people who failed to appear or were rearrested had higher scores than people who did not fail to appear and were not rearrested. These findings held in our full sample and in subsamples of Black and white people.

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Why is it important?

We did not find bail amounts to be related to pretrial outcomes. Maybe because when people miss court, it can be for reasons such as simply forgetting, not being able to take off work, or not having transportation or childcare. Similarly, when people are rearrested, it can be for reasons that include having parents who were incarcerated, experiencing abuse, a history of legal system involvement, living in a heavily surveilled area, and being a person of color in the United States. None of these reasons will be overcome by the threat of lost bail money. Instead of relying on money bail, jurisdictions could use pretrial risk assessment scores to guide more appropriate release decisions.

Perspectives

It is so encouraging to see all the interest and energy that has been focused on bail reform in the past couple of years. We hope that our paper is a helpful contribution to the larger conversation about how we can move away from money bail and toward practices that result in more people being safely released from jail for the pretrial period.

Samantha Zottola
Policy Research Associates

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Comparing the relationships between money bail, pretrial risk scores, and pretrial outcomes., Law and Human Behavior, June 2022, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/lhb0000487.
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