How Much Taxpayer Cash Do America’s Money Bail Systems Waste?


For Immediate Release: January 23, 2017

Contacts: Fiona Druge, | 646.755.6126

Two New Reports from the Pretrial Justice Institute Analyze Costs of Unnecessary Pretrial Detention

Washington, DC – Two new publications from the Pretrial Justice Institute shed fresh light on the ineffectiveness, public costs, and collateral impact of using money bail in America’s pretrial justice systems.

Pretrial Justice: How Much Does It Cost? is a comprehensive examination of the most recent research on the financial cost of the money bail system. Most people in U.S.  jails—more than 3 in 5—have not yet been to trial. The vast majority of these legally innocent men and women are locked up solely because they cannot afford money bail, not because evidence suggests they pose a risk to the community while they await their trial. This report summarizes the full range of costs that result from current ineffective pretrial justice policies—from the cost of jailing people before trial to the costs poor people incur from the for-profit bail bond industry and the opportunity costs of not adopting research-backed alternatives to money bail.  Highlights include: 

  • $14 billion in direct costs to American taxpayers to detain people who are mostly low risk and accused of nonviolent offenses, with collateral costs estimated at $140 billion annually,
  • $75 million in nonrefundable bondsmen fees collected in just one year from mostly low-income people in cases that were dropped or found not guilty in Maryland, and
  • Courts would see $78 billion in annual savings and benefits if they used evidence-based risk assessment tools in release decisions, instead of money bail.

Have You Asked Them? Talking to Defendants about Money Bond and Pretrial Release analyzes new survey data from George Mason University on how arrested people—both those in jail awaiting trial and a similar group of defendants on pretrial release—view money bail and the impact of pretrial incarceration on their lives and families. Key findings include:

  • Only 48% of people on pretrial release believe money bail provides an incentive to show up for court dates, and fewer than 42% of both groups (jailed and released defendants) believe money bail effectively discourages crime during pretrial release,  
  • 84% of jailed defendants employed at the time of their arrest said they may lose their jobs because of pretrial incarceration; among released individuals only 30% lost their jobs while in jail,
  • 61% of people awaiting trial in jail indicated they might not be able to live in the same place when released, and 57% said pretrial incarceration may change their children’s living situation. By comparison, 75% of released participants said their housing had not changed after their arrest.

“People are starting to understand that money bail is a costly way to get bad results. A growing body of evidence—including the research in these reports—overwhelmingly demonstrates that there are better alternatives for public safety that are also less expensive,” said Cherise Fanno Burdeen, Chief Executive Officer of the Pretrial Justice Institute. “Policymakers and other stakeholders rightly want to know how much it would cost to do things differently before making any significant policy shift. These reports make it clear that moving away from money bail is a wise financial choice for counties and states that will also make communities safer and the system more fair.”

Both reports are available in full at online.

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The Pretrial Justice Institute is a national organization working to advance safe, fair, and effective pretrial justice that honors and protects all people. To learn more about PJI or their 3DaysCount campaign that aims to support commonsense solutions to longstanding pretrial justice challenges in 20 states, visit

To schedule an interview or learn more about The Pretrial Justice Institute, contact Fiona Druge,, (646) 755-6126.

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