Back to top

Pretrial - Detention Impacts

This report “[p]resents findings on general trends in pretrial detention and misconduct in the federal district courts between fiscal years 1995 and 2010. The report highlights trends in the number of defendants released and detained pretrial and examines the changing composition of defendants with federal pretrial dispositions, including the increase in defendants charged with immigration violations and the growth of defendants with serious criminal backgrounds. It examines the relationships between pretrial detention and the type of charge and the criminal history of the defendant. In addition, the report includes trends on the rates of pretrial misconduct, including technical violations, missed court appearances, and re-arrests for new offenses between 1995 and 2010” (p. 1).

› Pretrial Detention and Misconduct in Federal District Courts, 1995-2010 Cover

"Although detention for dangerousness has received far more attention in recent years, a significant number of non-dangerous but impecunious defendants are jailed to ensure their presence at trial due to continued, widespread reliance on a money bail system."

"In misdemeanor cases, pretrial detention poses a particular problem because it may induce otherwise innocent defendants to plead guilty in order to exit jail, potentially creating widespread error in case adjudication."

"Over 20 percent of prison and jail inmates in the United States are currently awaiting trial, but little is known about the impact of pre-trial detention on defendants. This paper uses the detention tendencies of quasi-randomly assigned bail judges to estimate the causal effects of pre-trial detention on subsequent defendant outcomes. Using data from administrative court and tax records, we find that being detained before trial significantly increases the probability of a conviction, primarily through an increase in guilty pleas. Pre-trial detention has no detectable effect on future crime, but decreases pre-trial crime and failures to appear in court. We also find suggestive evidence that pre-trial detention decreases formal sector employment and the receipt of employment- and tax-related government benefits. We argue that these results are consistent with pre-trial detention weakening defendants’ bargaining position during plea negotiations, and a criminal conviction lowering defendants’ prospects in the formal labor market."

Conference of State Court Administrators.
The focus of this paper is a set of recommendations from COSCA regarding specific policies and practices that courts can adopt to minimize the negative impact of LFOs [legal financial obligations] while ensuring accountability for individuals who violate the law.

"The release-and-detention decision takes into account a number of different concerns, including protecting the community, the need for defendants to appear in court, and upholding the legal and constitutional rights afforded to accused persons awaiting trial. It carries enormous consequences not only for the defendant but also for the safety of the community … Using data from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, this research investigates the impact of pretrial detention on 1) pretrial outcomes (failure to appear and arrest for new criminal activity); and 2) post-disposition recidivism" (p. 3). Sections following an executive summary include: introduction; sample description; research objective one—investigate the relationship between length of pretrial detention and pretrial outcome; and research objective two—investigate the relationship between pretrial detention, as well as the length of pretrial detention, and new criminal activity post-disposition (NCA-PD). There appears to a direct link between how long low- and moderate-risk defendants are in pretrial detention and the chances that they will commit new crimes.

The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention Cover

This paper examines the effects of pretrial detention on case outcomes in federal criminal cases. Unlike cash-bail regimes that are prevalent in state courts, federal courts rarely use money bail as a condition of pretrial release. Nonetheless, this paper documents significant effects of pretrial detention for federal criminal defendants. Using data spanning 71 federal district courts, I present evidence that pretrial release reduces a defendant’s sentence increases the probability that they will receive a sentence below the recommended sentencing range. Pretrial release also appears to lessen the probability that a defendant will receive a mandatory minimum sentence when one is charged, but does not seem to affect the probability of facing a mandatory minimum. To address the identification problem inherent in using pretrial detention status as an explanatory variable, I exploit variation in magistrate judges’ propensities to release defendants pending trial, which allows magistrate judge leniency to serve as an instrumental variable for pretrial release. The paper also provides evidence that pretrial release affects case outcomes through two channels: first, by giving defendants the opportunity to present mitigating evidence at sentencing and second, by making it easier for defendants to earn a sentencing reduction by providing assistance to the government.

"This paper presents evidence of the effects of pretrial detention status on criminal case outcomes in federal criminal cases. I find that criminal defendants who are released pending trial earn a roughly 72 percent decrease in sentence length and a 36 percentage-point increase in the probability of receiving a sentence below the recommended federal sentencing Guidelines range. Pretrial release also reduces the probability that a defendant will receive at least the mandatory minimum sentence—when one is charged—by 39 percentage points, but does not affect the probability that the defendant will face a mandatory minimum sentence. To address the identification problem inherent in using pretrial detention status as an explanatory variable, I take advantage of the fact that pretrial release in federal courts is typically determined by magistrate judges who vary in their propensities to release defendants pending trial. This setting allows magistrate judge leniency to serve as an instrumental variable for pretrial release. I also present suggestive evidence of the mechanism at work. It appears that pretrial release affects case outcomes in two distinct ways: most importantly, by giving defendants the opportunity to present mitigating evidence at sentencing and, secondly, by making it easier for defendants to earn a sentencing reduction by providing substantial assistance to the government. In contrast, this paper does not find evidence that pretrial release improves defendants’ abilities to bargain with prosecutors. I also find that the effects of pretrial detention status on case outcomes are heterogeneous, and most pronounced for drug offenders."

Pages

Subscribe to Pretrial - Detention Impacts