Courts routinely use low cash bail as a financial incentive to ensure that released defendants appear in court and abstain from crime. This can create burdens for defendants with little empirical evidence on its efficacy. We exploit a prosecutor-driven reform that led to a sharp reduction in low cash bail and pretrial supervision, with no effect on pretrial detention, to test whether such incentive mechanisms succeed at their intended purpose. We find no evidence that financial collateral has a deterrent effect on failure-to-appear or pretrial crime. This paper also contributes to the literature on legal actor discretion, showing that non-binding reforms may have limited impact on jail populations.

Aurelie Ouss & Megan T. Stevenson, Does Cash Bail Deter Misconduct?, 15 American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 150–182 (2023).