Taxpayers Are Spending $38 Million A Day On Pretrial Incarcerations

The following is excerpted from a longer piece by Ron Davis, the Former Director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).

The most shocking bits are found below and you can read the post in its entirety here.


One might assume that locking up more people before trial is necessary to keep criminals off the streets. But in most of the country – as those of us in law enforcement know too well – someone’s ability to afford bail decides who returns home to wait for their day in court, rather than whether they pose a threat to the community. This is more than just a miscarriage of justice – it constitutes a threat to public safety.

When people are charged with a crime in most cities and states, the court assigns them a money bail that they can pay to get out of jail before their trial. Some can afford to pay bail and others cannot. But too often a defendant’s ability to buy their freedom correlates little to the level of risk that police, prosecutors and a judge feel he or she poses to the community.

Money bail systems allow violent and high risk individuals to end up back on the street. On average, research shows nearly half of defendants who are likely to commit crime before trial or skip court are released under effectively no oversight — simply because they could afford bail. In Chicago, for instance, a recent study from Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart showed that defendants facing gun charges – most alleged gang members – have access to the cash necessary to quickly gain freedom even when judges set high bail amounts. Many of these dangerous defendants returned to communities plagued by violence. According to the study, the neighborhoods where gun defendants posted the highest amount of collective bail were also the ones most prone to repeated shootings.

At the same time, these bail systems regularly leave low-risk people behind bars. Three-fourths of pretrial detainees are accused of property, drug, or other nonviolent offenses. This bail trap mostly ensnares low-income people and people facing mental illness or addiction, rather than the violent offenders we work hard to keep out of our communities.

Money bail drives unnecessary incarceration to staggering costs. Pretrial detention accounts for 95 percent of the growth in jail populations nationally since 2000. On any given day, there are 450,000 people in America’s jails sitting and waiting for their day in court, most of whom are there only because they cannot afford bail.

These people have not been convicted of a crime – some will ultimately have their charges dropped or found innocent at trial. Yet, taxpayers spend approximately $38 million a day to jail them. Annually, this adds up to approximately $14 billion, meaning we pour the same amount of money into ineffectual and often unnecessary pretrial incarceration every year as the total amount the Department of Justice has invested to advance community policing in the past 23 years.

Money bail might be standard practice, but it’s an ineffective tool to protect public safety. A few states have already taken steps to move away from money bail.


Speak your mind

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

4 thoughts on “Taxpayers Are Spending $38 Million A Day On Pretrial Incarcerations

  1. “Money bail might be standard practice, but it’s an ineffective tool to protect public safety. A few states have already taken steps to move away from money bail.”

    Wait, did I miss something? Doesn’t a move away from bail mean even more pre-trial detainees and even more money spent? Jackson County, MO has a huge detention center that at 30 yrs old is a junk heap housing double its designed load. The taxpayers now face $180 cost to replace it, the need for a larger staff to run it, and the need to greatly improve the pay of its corrections officers. If bail goes, then what?

    1. I think the idea is you only jail violent offenders and flight risks and you do so without bail. Everyone else goes home and goes to work or whatever they normally do until the trial. Then you can stop paying $38 million a day to house people who are only in prison because they are poor. The bail system doesn’t pay the bulk of the cost of the prisons, taxpayers do, so cutting the total cost by 75% will more than offset the lack of the occasional bail money.

      The current systems of charging even people found not guilty is just a roundabout way to criminalize poverty. We accuse you of a crime, take you out of work, make you sit in a jail or pay bail then when you’re found not guilty we charge you for the courts time and if you can’t pay you go to jail for contempt of court. Perfect system for the for profit prison industry but a waste of taxpayer money and a gross miscarriage of justice.

  2. The presumption of innocence is an important constitutional principle but most people just pay it lip service. When you have a system of electing state trial court judges, and allow them to run campaign ads, you create an atmosphere that promotes pretrial incarceration. No judge ever ran a campaign ad that proclaimed: “I have released hundreds of criminal defendants on bail and only a couple of them have committed violent felonies while awaiting trial.”

NEWSROOM crewneck & prints