Bail and Public Safety

I want to take this occasion to announce that my students and I are researching bail and pretrial release as part of a criminal law and policy class, working in partnership with some local policymakers, and that we will be posting our research and policy prescriptions on the class blog. I have just published a post that suggests that the commercial bail policy question has, thusfar, been focused unduly on the rates at which defendants fail to appear in court under various release conditions (own-recognizance release (OR), commercial bail bonds, cash deposit bonds, etc.). I propose, instead, that at least part of the analysis focus on the public safety implications of various forms of release, measured by re-arrest rates. Data from Santa Clara County that we have obtained shows that defendants released on bail bonds are rearrested at roughly ten times the rate as those released on OR or supervised OR. Read the full analysis on the blog—and, while you’re at it, check out some of my students’ projects!

Author: W. David Ball

W. David Ball is an Associate Professor at Santa Clara School of Law. He writes and teaches primarily in the fields of criminal law and criminal procedure, with a special focus on sentencing and corrections. He also serves as the Co-Chair of the Corrections Committee of the American Bar Association.

2 thoughts on “Bail and Public Safety”

  1. Very cool! Are we sure that the defendants released on bail bonds were not deemed too dangerous for OR or supervised OR?

  2. Good question! It's not entirely clear, although that's certainly something to dig into. In Santa Clara, the pretrial instrument recommendation is overridden by pretrial services (PTS) about 20 percent of the time, and judges, in turn, diverge from the recommendation of pretrial services about 25 percent of the time. So it could, indeed, be that these are cases where PTS said not to let them out and they bonded their way out, or it could also be that there is some treatment effect to day reporting and other services offered by PTS that bail bond companies don't do. I do know that one subpopulation of great concern to county policymakers is those accused of domestic violence. There's a real interest in making sure that serial abusers just can't pay their way out. I'm not sure what percentage of the rearrests involves that population, though, since the numbers aren't clear on that.

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