U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

A Mixed-Method Examination of the Effectiveness of Money Bail and other Pretrial Release Options

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $560,195)

Prior research on the pretrial stage of the criminal justice system has tended to focus on the downstream consequences of money bail and pretrial detention, including linkages between these practices and defendants’ later case outcomes and post-disposition offending. Yet researchers have largely failed to address a more fundamental set of questions about money bail, including whether it is an effective mechanism of pretrial release (i.e., does it ensure court appearance and public safety), which alternatives are equally (or more) effective, and for whom. The proposed research leverages a collaborative, longstanding researcher-practitioner partnership between Florida State University and the Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Commission, and draws on data from a randomized controlled trial, county- and state-level administrative data (e.g., jail, clerk of courts, pretrial services, Florida Department of Law Enforcement), and qualitative interview data. The overarching goal of this proposed work is to provide a systematic evaluation of the efficacy of money bail. To the extent that alternatives to money bail perform just as effectively, while also increasing release rates overall and especially among members of racial and ethnic minority groups, findings from this work will pinpoint public policy interventions that may reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system. In order to achieve this goal, we address the following aims: (1) To rely on an experimental design to examine the effectiveness of money bail at ensuring that defendants appear in court and avoid further contact with the criminal justice system during the pretrial period. (2) To draw on quasi-experimental methods to compare the effectiveness of money bail to non-financial release mechanisms, including supervised pretrial release and personal recognizance release. (3) To assess defendants’ own perspectives on the mechanisms underlying the effects of bail and pretrial detention while also focusing attention on a broader range of outcomes; that is, moving beyond the criminal justice domain to consider the social and economic toll of individuals’ pretrial experiences. Our approach, which relies on rigorous research methods, including an experimental design, will generate credible, evidence-based findings about the efficacy of money bail. Given that many jurisdictions across the country are finding themselves questioning their current bail practices—often due to growing concerns about racial and ethnic disparities—the proposed project has significant potential to inform the discussion and design of promising alternative pretrial practices and frameworks, including those which center efforts to promote pretrial equity. CA/NCF

Date Created: September 20, 2023