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Bail Reform Leads to Drop in Jail Time, Recidivism: Study

A groundbreaking study on bail reform in Harris County, Texas found that dropping money bail for individuals charged with nonviolent offenses produced significant declines in conviction and incarceration, as well as a 6 percent drop in recidivism.

The study by the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice and the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School  focused on the results of reforms introduced in Harris County, Texas, which was required by federal consent decree to change bail policy for misdemeanor charges five years ago.

Under the new policy, authorities released 13 percent more people within 24 hours of their misdemeanor arrest.

Although the results were limited to a single county, they buck recurring predictions from critics that bail reform will lead to increased crime.

“We show that it’s possible to change the pretrial system and release more people in a way that benefits the general public, helps defendants, and doesn’t lead to more crime,” Paul Heaton, academic director of the Quattrone Center, said in a statement accompanying the report.

The Quattrone researchers examined 517,000 cases covering all misdemeanor and felony cases in Harris County, which includes Houston, one of the largest cities in the U.S, from 2015 to May 2022.

The study reported 15 percent drops in both guilty pleas and convictions, combined with a 17 percent reduction in the likelihood of a jail sentence.

Other findings included:

    • 6 percent decrease in new prosecutions over three years following arrest, indicating a reduction in a person’s likelihood of future contact with the criminal justice system.
    • 13 percent increase in misdemeanor releases within 24 hours following arrest.
    • 15 percent average reduction in sentence length.

.The full report, which was supported by Arnold Ventures, can be downloaded here


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