For the second speaker in our Myths of  Public Safety: Pretrial speaker series we invited Professor Megan Stevenson, an economist from the University of Virginia School of Law, to discuss her innovative research on the costs and consequences of bail and pretrial detention. Our current system is based on the idea that the safety benefits outweigh the harm that it inflicts. But does it keep us safe? Does bail increase the likelihood that people show up in court? The results may surprise you. We discussed reforms to bail and pretrial detention that have been attempted around the country and try to learn from their successes and failures. 


Links to resources mentioned during the event

Prof. Stevenson's SSRN page, with many of her publications:

There are jurisdictions where victims are arrested if they do not want to participate in a prosecution, for example New Orleans:

For more on personal reflections on the harms of pretrial electronic monitoring from people subjected to it, see this recently published qualitative research from Sandra Susan Smith:

Another interesting survey of crime victims about their proposed solutions to experiencing harm, focusing on rehabilitation over punishment:

Ironically, in New Jersey, the jail population actually increased in 2020 during COVID:

"The P.S.A. [Public Safety Assessment] predicts that 92 percent of the people that the algorithm flags for pretrial violence will not get arrested for a violent crime. The fact is, a vast majority of even the highest-risk individuals will not commit a violent crime while awaiting trial. If these tools were calibrated to be as accurate as possible, then they would simply predict that every person is unlikely to commit a violent crime while on pretrial release."

That Sandy Mayson paper, "Dangerous Defendants," is available for download here:

There is ongoing research in the works here at the PCJ, led by Sandra Susan Smith, about how even one day in pretrial detention may lead to attendant harms:



Megan StevensonMegan Stevenson is an economist and criminal justice scholar. She has conducted empirical research in various areas of criminal justice reform, including bail, algorithmic risk assessment, misdemeanors and juvenile justice. Her research on bail was cited extensively in a landmark federal civil rights decision, O’Donnell v. Harris County, and has received widespread media coverage. She was the 2019 winner of the Oliver E. Williamson prize for best article, chosen among all articles published in the Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization within the previous three years. Recent publications include, Does Cash Bail Deter Misconduct?Virtually No One Is Dangerous Enough to Justify Jail, and Pretrial Detention and the Value of Liberty.

Prior to joining the law faculty at UVA, Stevenson was an assistant professor of law at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School (2017-2020) and a fellow at the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School (2015-17). She holds a Ph.D. in agricultural and resource economics from the University of California, Berkeley. Her teaching areas include criminal law, evidence-based criminal justice reform, statistics for lawyers and economics for lawyers.


Katy Naples-MitchellKaty Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, is the moderator of  the Myths of  Public Safety speaker series.





Katy Naples-MitchellSandra Susan SmithThe Myths of  Public Safety speaker series is organized by Katy Naples-Mitchell, Program Director of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, and  Sandra Susan Smith, Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice; Faculty Director, Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management; Director, Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy; Professor of Sociology; and Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute.