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The Hamilton Project: cash bail system cost the U.S. economy over $15B
The Hamilton Project: cash bail system cost the U.S. economy over $15B

cash moneyThe Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution has released a new report titled, “The Economics of Bail and Pretrial Detention,” which explores the economic burden that the U.S. bail and pretrial detention system places not only on low-income defendants—but society as a whole. 

The study concludes that in 2018, the direct cost of bail to the U.S. economy was $15.26 billion (illustrated below in Table 1). The more than $15 billion in costs does not include additional indirect fees and long-run damages including: decreased future employment opportunities, increased financial burdens placed on family members, and future crimes committed, among other factors.  Additional findings from the report include:

  • Despite California’s recent elimination of cash bail, the analysis finds that in recent decades, the usage of bail and the duration of pretrial detention in the U.S. has increased significantly—regardless of the type of offense. For example: between 1992 and 2009, median bail increased by 33 percent for drug offenses, 48 percent for public order offenses, and 67 percent for violent offenses. 
  • Nearly 25 percent of all state and local inmates are in jail without having been convicted of a crime. The majority of these people are deemed eligible for release by a judge—but are unable to raise the funds to leave jail.
  • Pretrial detention periods are growing substantially, subsequently increasing costs to those who cannot afford bail. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the median duration of pretrial detention increased for every charged offense, ranging from an increase of 34 percent for burglary to 104 percent for rape. 
  • The share of released defendants who relied on commercial bail bonds more than doubled—rising from 24 to 49 percent, from 1990-2009. Commercial bonds account for all of the increase in total defendants who are able to secure financial release.

To learn more about the findings in the analysis, view the full report online.

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