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The Case for Clemency: Differential Impacts of Pretrial Detention on Case and Crime Outcomes

By George Rateb

Abstract
About half-million of individuals in US jails are detained pretrial while legally presumed
innocent. Using data on quasi-randomly assigned bail judges in the third-largest court system in
the U.S., we study the impact of pretrial detention on defendants’ court and crime outcomes
between 2008 and 2012. We supplement our primary analysis to document patterns on bail
amounts and how they differentially impact Black defendants relative to their white and Hispanic
counterparts. Instrumental variable estimates suggest that pretrial detention increases the
likelihood of being found guilty, mainly driven by the uptake of guilty pleas, especially for
minorities. By linking court and jail data, we provide mechanistic evidence that jail time is
positively correlated with the uptake of these guilty pleas. To the best of our knowledge, these
findings have not been empirically documented due to a lack of previous data availability.

Professor Bocar Ba, Faculty Advisor
Professor Michelle Connolly, Faculty Advisor

JEL classification: C26; J15; K14

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