Columbia Economists Show Consequences of Money Bail


Columbia PhD Candidates Chris Hansman, (Economics) and Arpit Gupta, PhD (Finance and Economics) have co-authored a paper with Maryland Public Defender Ethan Frenchman titled “The Heavy Costs of High Bail: Evidence from Judge Randomization” showing the consequences for public safety and justice from the practice of money bail.

The research was funded in part by our Investing in Justice Pilot Project Funding Program and we are excited to watch the impact of their work unfold as discussions of money bail and changing policy continue to grow.

Their work was highlighted by the Atlantic today in an article titled “Is Bail Causing Convictions?” Below is an excerpt and you can read the entire article HERE.

Is Bail Causing Convictions?

Bail is supposed to encourage defendants to show up for trials, but it also increases the likelihood of conviction and recidivism.

Bourree Lam 

Of the many surprising statistics about America’s money bail system, this one may be the most astounding: More than 60 percent of people in America’s overcrowded jails are there because they can’t afford to pay their bail amount. That works out to roughly 450,000 Americans in jail daily, and how long they stay there can vary with waiting times for trials potentially lasting months (or sometimes, years).

The American money-bail system, which has been around since 1789, has ripple effect. Some reformers argue that poor defendants might plead guilty in order to be released. Others say that there are more effective alternatives to money bail, such as using a risk score or supervising defendants before trial. Concerns aboutthe use of money in the bail system and the bail bond industry have also raised questions about America’s pretrial system and the way it affects the lives of unconvicted people…….

……Now, two economists from Columbia University and a public defender from Maryland have co-authored a study showing the size of the impact on assigning money bail on the likelihood of a guilty plea and recidivism. The experiment uses criminal data from the arraignment system in Philadelphia from 2010 to 2015, where the assignment of defendants to bail magistrates is close to random. This randomness is ideal for what economists call a natural experiment, where defendants are exposed to different conditions (in this case, different magistrates with different predispositions to assigning bail) at random.

Chris Hansman, a PhD candidate in economics at Columbia University and a co-author of the paper, says that he and his fellow researchers found that being assigned money bail increases the probability of conviction by about 6 percentage points and also causes a 4 percentage point increase in the risk that someone would go on to commit another crime.