Is it too much, too little, or just right? How are we defining success? Could we do this better? The only way to answer such questions is to gather more information about who is in our jails—why they are there, and for how long—and whether current pretrial practices produce the intended results: court appearance and public safety.
In nearly every jurisdiction, for nearly every criminal offense, courts require people to pay money to be released from jail before their trial. In recent years, many—from local city councils to the White House —have begun to question this practice, for both its inequities and its negative effect on public safety. But there is also the matter of financial costs. Money bond systems create unnecessarily high pretrial (and post-adjudication) incarceration rates that weigh down justice system budgets. Each day someone is in jail, the price of his or her food, medical care, and security (excluding fixed building expenses) may be conservatively estimated at $85 a day. Roughly 450,000 people are detained before trial on any given day at a daily cost to U.S. taxpayers of more than $38 million.
This brief summarizes what researchers and practitioners have learned as of January 2017 about the costs of the current system compared to legal and evidence-based improvements such as moving away from money bail, implementing pretrial risk assessment, providing court reminders, and monitoring or supervision.