Bail Elimination, The Numbers Do Not Add Up

There is much discussion regarding the need to eliminate bail. Ignorant bail elimination advocates claim hundreds of thousands of defendants are languishing in jail, eliminating bail will save taxpayers money, and the bail system does not work.  Let’s take a simple look at why each of these claims are logically and mathematically false.

First false claim: Thousands of defendants are languishing in jail:

According to Prisonpolicy.org there are approximately 650,000 individuals in jails throughout the US2on a daily basis. About one third of the 650,000 individuals are serving a sentence leaving a pretrial population of 450,000. This is the false number that bail elimination advocates use to promote their biased agenda. Of the 450,000, there are defendants who should be held pending their trial. These are the violent, career criminals.3 Prisonpolicy.org agrees about a third of the pretrial population are violent offenders who should not be released due to the heinous crime charge and probable cause. Jail studies in Los Angeles County4 and in New Jersey5 show about half of the pretrial defendants have no bond due to a violation, detainer, out of county warrant, etc. Therefore, another 150,000 could not be released under any condition leaving a true bailable pretrial population of 150,000. Considering there are over 200,000 arrests each week in the US, simple math proves almost all of the truly bailable defendants will be released within hours or days.  If not, there would be an exponential increase in inmates. There is not. In fact, the number of jail inmates has declined over the past 8 years.2,8

What is the true daily pretrial defendant jail population?
Over 20 Million crimes each year in the US
11 Million annual arrests/211,000 weekly
650,000       daily jail population
– 200,000       sentenced population
– 150,000       violent offenders
– 150,000       defendants with no bond due to violations, detainers, holds, etc.
150,000        true number of pretrial defendants is less than 3% of those arrested annually

 Second false claim: Eliminating bail will save taxpayers money

Bail elimination advocates state it will save taxpayers $38 million per day. They base their calculation on an erroneous 450,000 pretrial population multiplied by a daily housing cost of about $80 per defendant; multiplied by 365 days per year to come to the false savings of $14 billion per year. From the information under False Claim 1 and using simple grade school math, you can easily see this claim is false. Almost all of the truly bailable population is released through the current bail system which has no cost to taxpayers. Many are already released without posting any money. New Jersey claimed these same savings during debate on their bail reform. Though an economics professor testified it would cost taxpayers millions, reform advocates used the same illogical formula above to claim it would save taxpayers millions. 2017, year one of reform, cost to New Jersey taxpayers over $130 million as stated by “The Report to the Governor and Legislature 2017”. There was no savings, only cost.

Third false claim: The current bail system does not work

There is one purpose of bail: ensure those accused of a crime appear for every court date. Though probable cause led to an arrest, people are presumed innocent. Does that mean all defendants are innocent? No. Does it mean all defendants should be released pretrial? No. Whether we like it or not, money creates incentive and penalty throughout many US industries. Why do people work and strive to excel at their work? Financial Incentive. Why do people pay bills on time? Financial Penalty.  As the old saying goes; “Money talks”. Does that mean all accused should have financial bail? No. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of defendants are released without financial bail every year.  A study by the University of Texas at Dallas6 looked at various forms of release and found secured release was most effective for ensuring defendants appear for all their court dates. Several other studies have confirmed the same. Financial gain and loss makes perfect, logical, sense with bail as it does in every industry.

Jail incarceration rates and crime rates have thankfully declined over 20% since 20082,8.  Clearly this proves if crime is greatly reduced, jail incarceration rates will follow. Want to eliminate bail? Simple, logical, mathematically solution: Eliminate Crime!

  1. FBI: UCR 2015 Crime in the United States https://ucr.fbi.gov
  2. Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2016.html
  3. Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties, 2009 https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fdluc09.pdf
  4. Evaluation of the Current and Future Los Angeles County Jail Population http://www.jfa-associates.com/publications/
  5. New Jersey Jail Population Analysis https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/New_Jersey_Jail_Population_Analysis_March_2013.pdf
  6. Pretrial Release Mechanisms in Dallas County, Texas https://www.utdallas.edu/epps/ccjs/dl/Dallas%20Pretrial%20Release%20Report%20-FINAL%20Jan%202013c.pdf
  7. Bob Andrzejczak Letter  http://www.usbailreform.com/letter-nj-assemblyman-bob-andrzejczak-warns-california-lawmakers-bail-reform-absolute-disaster
  8. Census Of Jails: Population Changes, 1999–2013 https://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=5480
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