Extended Pretrial Detention Correlated to Increased Crime, Studies Find

Extended pretrial detention is correlated with longer jail and prison terms, increased rates of recidivism, and a smaller chance that defendants will return to court, new research funded by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation finds.

Conducted over two years, Investigating the Impact of Pretrial Detention on Sentencing Outcomes (21 pages, PDF), The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention (32 pages, PDF), and Exploring the Impact of Supervision on Pretrial Outcomes (22 pages, PDF) found that defendants who were held for the entire pretrial period were more likely to be sentenced to jail or prison — and for longer terms — than defendants who were released before trial; that there are strong correlations between the length of time low- and moderate-risk defendants were detained before trial and the likelihood of their missing their day in court or of reoffending; and that those who were released and received pretrial supervision were significantly more likely to appear for their day in court than those who were unsupervised.

The analysis of the effect of pretrial detention on sentencing outcomes looked at state data; a separate study found similar results in the context of federal courts. The study of future criminal activity examined data on 153,000 defendants in Kentucky during the 2009-10 period. The analysis of pretrial supervision looked at defendants in two states — one Eastern and one Western — that were not identified.

"Today's research begins to answer critical questions about how we can make our communities safer, make our criminal justice system more just, and use our already scarce resources more wisely," said LJAF vice president of criminal justice Anne Milgram. "These studies show that the earliest decisions made in a criminal case may impact long-term recidivism, the likelihood of a jail or prison sentence and the length of that sentence, and the chance that a defendant will commit new crimes or fail to return to court before trial. More research is needed, and more attention must be spent on these critical choices that are made day in and day out across our nation."