Optimal Bail and the Value of Freedom: Evidence from the Philadelphia Bail Experiment

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This article performs a cost-benefit analysis to determine socially optimal bail levels for felony defendants. We consider jailing costs, the cost of lost freedom to incarcerated defendants, and the social costs of flight and new crimes committed by released defendants. We estimate the effects of changing bail using data from a randomized experiment. We find that the typical defendant in our sample would be willing to pay roughly $1,000 for 90 days of freedom. While imprecise, our optimal bail estimates are similar to the observed levels of bail prior to bail reform.

Publication Title

Economic Inquiry

Publication Citation

49 Econ. Inquiry 750 (2011)