The Effects of Pre-Trial Detention on Conviction, Future Crime, and Employment: Evidence from Randomly Assigned Judges

Author
Abstract
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 (i) pre-trial detention weakening defendants’ bargaining position during plea negotiations,
and (ii) a criminal conviction lowering defendants’ prospects in the formal labor market.
Year of Publication
2016
Number
601
Date Published
08/2016
Publication Language
eng
Citation Key
9646
URL
Working Papers