Over 20 percent of prison and jail inmates in the United States are currently awaiting trial, but little is known about the impact of pre-trial detention on defendants. This paper uses the detention tendencies of quasi-randomly assigned bail judges to estimate the causal effects of pre-trial detention on subsequent defendant outcomes. Using data from administrative court and tax records, we find that pre-trial detention significantly increases the probability of conviction, primarily through an increase in guilty pleas. Pre-trial detention has no net effect on future crime, but decreases formal sector employment and the receipt of employment- and tax-related government benefits. These results are consistent with (i)pre-trial detention weakening defendants' bargaining positions during plea negotiations and (ii) a criminal conviction lowering defendants' prospects in the formal labor market.
Dobbie, Will. "The Effects of Pre-Trial Detention on Conviction, Future Crime, and Employment: Evidence from Randomly Assigned Judges." American Economic Review 108.2 (February 2018): 201-240.