Is Bail Reform Causing an Increase in Crime?

  • Name
    Don Stemen ·
  • Name
    David Olson ·

The Center recently published a report with the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation examining recent bail reform efforts across the United States and the impact of those reforms on crime. Our report summarized the reforms several jurisdictions have recently taken to restrict the use of pretrial detention and/or reduce or eliminate the use of monetary bail as a condition of pretrial release. “Bail reform,” the umbrella term for these efforts, has taken many forms, but in the past few years a total of eight states—Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, Nebraska, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, and most recently Illinois—have moved in this direction, either significantly limiting the use of monetary bail, curtailing the use of pretrial detention for less serious offenses, or both. And several prominent local jurisdictions—including Cook County (Chicago); Harris County (Houston); Philadelphia; Mobile, Alabama; New Orleans; and San Francisco—took similar steps.

Evaluations of bail reforms were conducted in four of these jurisdictions – Cook County, Harris County, Philadelphia County, and New Jersey. In each of these, evaluators examined whether defendants released pretrial were charged with new criminal activity while on release. Across all four jurisdictions, there was not significant change in the likelihood of new criminal activity after the reforms were implemented. In other words, across all four jurisdictions the percent of released defendants charged with new criminal activity was nearly the same before and after reforms.

This should not be surprising, because, as we see across these four evaluations, bail reform does not markedly increase the number or percentage of people released pretrial. Rather, it generally changes only how people are released, by eliminating the requirement that they post monetary bail. As this makes clear, the costs of bail reform—in terms of the apparent impact on crime—are minimal. Reducing pretrial detention and eliminating money considerations from decisions about pretrial release do not make us less safe.