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OPTIMAL BAIL AND THE VALUE OF FREEDOM: EVIDENCE FROM THE PHILADELPHIA BAIL EXPERIMENT

Authors

  • DAVID S. ABRAMS,

    1. Abrams: Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania Law School, 3400 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. Phone (215) 898-7497, Fax (215) 573-2025, E-mail dabrams@law.upenn.edu
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  • CHRIS ROHLFS

    1. Rohlfs: Assistant Professor of Economics, Center for Policy Research, 426 Eggers Hall, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244. Phone (315) 443-5455, Fax (315) 443-1081, E-mail carohlfs@maxwell.syr.edu
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    • The authors would like to specially thank Qu Feng for expert research assistance and also thank Jonah Gelbach, Michael Greenstone, Steve Levitt, Sendhil Mullainathan, Casey Mulligan, and seminar participants at MIT, Syracuse University, and University of Chicago for their helpful comments. D.S.A. gratefully acknowledges support from the MIT Schultz Fund.


Abstract

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 d of freedom. While imprecise, our optimal bail estimates are similar to the observed levels of bail prior to bail reform. (JEL J17, J19, K14, K42)

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