Does Bail Reform Increase Crime?

post by Dale · 2020-02-22T20:58:34.294Z · score: 20 (15 votes) · EA · GW · 1 comments

This is a link post for https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3541091

In the past some EAs have expressed interest in 'Bail Reform' - basically increasing the number of people who are released before their trial - as a possible cause. As such I thought people might be interested in this recent paper, Does Bail Reform Increase Crime? An Empirical Assessment of the Public Safety Implications of Bail Reform in Cook County, Illinois (Cassell & Fowles), suggesting that Chicago's rule changes to release more people caused a significant increase in violent crime:

Recently bail reform issues have been in the news across the country, as concerns about fair treatment of defendants and possible public safety risks from expanding pretrial release have collided. These issues involve important empirical questions, including whether releasing more defendants before trial leads to additional crimes. An opportunity to investigate this public safety issue has developed in Chicago, our nation’s second largest city. There, the Office of the Chief Judge of the Cook County Courts adopted new bail reform measures in September 2017 and reviewed them empirically in May 2019. Cook County’s Bail Reform Study concluded that the new procedures had released many more defendants before trial without any concomitant increase in crime. This article disputes the Study’s conclusions. This article explains that, contrary to the Study’s assertions, the new changes to pretrial release procedures appear to have led to a substantial increase in crimes committed by pretrial releasees in Cook County. Properly measured and estimated, after more generous release procedures were put in place, the number of released defendants charged with committing new crimes increased by 45%. And, more concerning, the number of pretrial releasees charged with committing new violent crimes increased by an estimated 33%. In addition, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, the Study’s data appears to undercount the number of releasees charged with new violent crimes; and a substantial number of aggravated domestic violence prosecutions prosecutors dropped after the changes, presumably because batterers were able to more frequently obtain release and intimidate their victims into not pursuing charges. These public safety concerns call into question whether the bail “reform” measures implemented in Cook County were cost-beneficial. And because Cook County’s procedures are state-of-the-art and track those being implemented in many parts of the country, Cook County’s experience suggests that other jurisdictions may similarly be suffering increases in crime due to bail reform. (link)

There is also extended commentary here and here.

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comment by Arjun_Kh · 2020-02-25T19:13:29.893Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Related: OpenPhil's review of the evidence on the impacts of incarceration on crime:

The final report reaches two major conclusions:
I estimate that, at typical policy margins in the United States today, decarceration has zero net impact on crime outside of prison. That estimate is uncertain, but at least as much evidence suggests that decarceration reduces crime as increases it. The crux of the matter is that tougher sentences hardly deter crime, and that while imprisoning people temporarily stops them from committing crime outside prison walls, it also tends to increase their criminality after release. As a result, “tough-on-crime” initiatives can reduce crime in the short run but cause offsetting harm in the long run.
Empirical social science research—or at least non-experimental social science research—should not be taken at face value. Among three dozen studies I reviewed, I obtained or reconstructed the data and code for eight. Replication and reanalysis revealed significant methodological concerns in seven and led to major reinterpretations of four. These studies endured much tougher scrutiny from me than they did from peer reviewers in order to make it into academic journals. Yet given the stakes in lives and dollars, the added scrutiny was worth it. So from the point of view of decision makers who rely on academic research, today’s peer review processes fall well short of the optimal.