Coase-Sandor Working Paper Series in Law and Economics

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This paper performs a cost-benefit analysis to determine socially optimal bail levels that balance the costs to defendants against the costs to other members of society. We consider jailing costs, the cost of lost freedom to incarcerated defendants, and the social costs of flight and new crimes committed by released defendants. We estimate the effects of bail amounts on the fraction of defendants posting bail, fleeing, and committing crimes during pre-trial release, using data from a randomized experiment. We also use defendants' bail posting decisions to measure their subjective values of freedom. We find that the typical defendant in our sample would be willing to pay roughly $1,000 for 90 days of freedom. While imprecise, our optimal bail estimates are similar to the observed levels of bail prior to bail reform.



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