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The Unintended Impact of Pretrial Detention on Case Outcomes: Evidence from New York City Arraignments

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In the United States, over 400,000 individuals are in jail daily waiting for their criminal cases to be resolved. The majority of detainees are held because they cannot post bail. We estimate the impact of being detained pretrial on the likelihood of being convicted and sentence length using data on nearly a million criminal cases in New York City. Causal effects are identified using variation across arraignment judges in their propensities to detain defendants. We find that being detained increases the probability of conviction by 13 percentage points for felony defendants. Although pretrial detention lowers the probability of rearrest while cases are being adjudicated, this reduction in criminal activity is mostly offset by an increase in recidivism within 2 years after disposition. Higher pretrial detention rates among minority defendants explain 40 percent of the black-white gap in rates of being sentenced to prison and 28 percent of the Hispanic-white gap. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. (US Constitution, Eighth Amendment)

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