Ending or limiting the use of monetary bail has become a common criminal justice reform. Reformers and researchers have long supported such measures Opponents — including prosecutors, police departments, and the commercial bail industry — say pretrial reform puts community safety at risk.
The Prison Policy Initiative found four states, as well as nine cities and counties, with data measuring public safety before and after the adoption of pretrial reforms. All of the jurisdictions saw decreases or negligible increases in crime or re-arrest rates after implementing reforms.
The advocacy group describes the reforms implemented in each of these 13 jurisdictions, the effect the reforms had on the pretrial population, and the effect on public safety.
PPI concludes that whether the jurisdictions eliminated money bail for some or all charges, began using a validated risk assessment tool, introduced services to remind people of coming court dates, or implemented some combination of these policies, releasing people pretrial did not negatively impact public safety.
About 83% of people held in jails are legally innocent and awaiting trial, often behind bars because they are too poor to make bail. The overall jail population hasn’t always been so heavily dominated by pretrial detainees. Increased arrests and a growing reliance on money bail over the last three decades have contributed to a significant rise in pretrial detention.
Any time spent in pretrial detention can increase rates of failure to appear in court and rates of re-arrest. And research shows that just a few days of pretrial detention can have detrimental effects on someone's employment, housing, financial stability, and family wellbeing.
In this analysis, public safety is measured through the narrow lens of crime rates. Pretrial reforms promote other types of safety that are more difficult to measure, such as the safety of individuals who can remain at home instead of in a jail cell, children who are able to stay in their parents’ care, and community members who are spared the health risks that come from inmates entering and leaving jails, PPI says.
Pretrial reform also alleviates jail overcrowding, and is a good alternative to new jail construction for counties with overcrowded jails.
PPI summarizes the impact of reforms in New Jersey, New Mexico, Kentucky, New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Santa Clara County, Ca., Cook County, Il., Yakima County, Wa., Harris County, Tx., New Orleans and Jefferson County, Colo.