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Pretrial detention costs $13.6 billion each year

February 17, 2017
Karina Schroeder
Karina Schroeder
Communications Associate, Vera Institute of Justice

Prison Policy Initiative’s new report Following the Money of Mass Incarceration looks at the big picture and concludes that the government and families of justice-involved people spend $182 billion each year on mass incarceration and over-criminalization. But for this report, Prison Policy Initiative also calculates an important cost hidden within this figure: the cost of locking people up before trial.

This population which has recently grown to be the majority of people in jails, has not been convicted and is legally innocent. Some people were arrested a few hours or days ago and have not been brought before a judge, and others are too poor to afford money bail and must wait for trial.

On any given day, this country has 451,000 people behind bars who are being detained pretrial. In Following the Money of Mass Incarceration, Prison Policy Initiative puts a price tag on how much it costs local governments nationwide: $13.6 billion.

Jail policies matter. There are lots of strategies that individual jurisdictions can adopt to reduce their jail populations. The MacArthur Foundation is sponsoring a number of these strategies via its Safety and Justice Challenge—providing funding to jurisdictions around the country to develop community solutions aimed at reducing use of jails and high rates of pretrial detention.

In Spokane, WA for instance, the city and county court systems are testing a new risk assessment tool—the Spokane Assessment for Evaluation of Risk, or SAFER—to calculate whether someone can be released safely pretrial without leveraging bail. Lucas County, OH is developing a similar assessment program to evaluate people as they enter the jail. And Houston’s Harris County is piloting a program to provide public defenders to some defendants at bail hearings.

And, for more on how the poverty of people detained pretrial makes money bail unaffordable and spurs pretrial detention in the first place, check out Prison Policy Initiative’s 2016 report, Detaining the Poor: How money bail perpetuates and endless cycle of poverty and jail time.

*This post originally appeared on Prison Policy Initiative