We measure the economic costs of the US pretrial system using several complementary approaches and data sources. The pretrial system operates as one of the earliest points of entry in the criminal justice system. It typically represents an individual’s first opportunity to be incarcerated, potentially leading to subsequent long-term damage in the form of family separation, work interruption, loss of housing, and so on. We find that individuals lose almost $30,000 in forgone earnings and social benefits when detained in jail while awaiting the resolution of their criminal cases. These adverse consequences are also present in aggregate measures of economic well-being, with increases in county pretrial detention rates associated with increases in poverty rates and decreases in employment rates. Counties with high levels of pretrial detention also exhibit significantly lower levels of intergenerational mobility among children, consistent with pretrial detention having an adverse impact on young children who may be the dependents of individuals affected by the pretrial system.


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pp. 251-291
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