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

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Date and Time: 
Monday, October 31, 2016
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Speaker: 
Will S. Dobbie
Princeton University
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 net effect on future crime, but we 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.