Evaluating the Impacts of Eliminating Prosecutorial Requests for Cash Bail


Recent criminal justice reform efforts have focused on electing progressive prosecutors to implement change, such as the reduction of cash bail as a requirement for pretrial release. However, critics worry that removing cash bail will decrease accountability and increase failure-to-appear in court. We test this by looking at the effects of the No-Cash-Bail reform policy initiated by Philadelphia’s recently elected District Attorney, Larry Krasner. Under this policy, the DA’s office stopped requesting cash bail for defendants charged with a large variety of different offenses, both misdemeanor and felony. This policy led to an immediate 23% increase (12 percentage points) in the fraction of eligible defendants released with no monetary or other conditions (ROR), and a 22% (5 percentage points) decrease in the fraction of defendants who spent at least one night in jail, but no detectable difference for longer jail stays. The main effect of this policy was therefore to reduce the use of collateral to incentivize court appearance. In spite of this large decrease in the fraction of defendants having monetary incentives to show up to court, we detect no change in failure-to-appear in court or in recidivism, suggesting that reductions in the use of monetary bail can be made without significant adverse consequences. These results also demonstrate the role of prosecutors in determining outcomes over which they have no direct authority, such as setting bail.