Pretrial Detention: A Menu of Impossible Choices
December 17, 2021
60% of the people sitting in jail as you read this newsletter are innocent. To expand on the above “clickbait" sentence, this 60% represents the 465,000 people confined in pretrial detention that have not been convicted of a crime. It costs $35M a day to detain these people. In 2009 the median detention time before trial ranged from 50 to 240 days.
Even with the use of a bail bondsman, the nonrefundable premium (typically 10% of the bail amount) is out of reach of many defendants, who have a median income of $16,000 a year. Defendants who can afford neither the bail premium nor the 2-8 months away from their family responsibilities are left with a third option: pleading guilty to the crime they’re charged with. Although statistics of who is actually guilty out of those who merely plead guilty are not available for obvious reasons, the economic reality of the bail situation should make us wonder how many such people are walking around with undeserved criminal records.
Many jurisdictions have either moved away from the cash bail concept long ago (Washington, DC, and Kentucky), or have just completed/are currently reviewing alternatives to cash bail (New Jersey, New Mexico, Maryland, and counties in Colorado, Oregon, Wisconsin, California, and Illinois). Typically these alternatives are a combination of risk assessment algorithms (although algorithms have their own biases, to be covered in a future newsletter) and pretrial monitoring ranging from regular contact follow-ups to GPS bracelets.