Reducing Racial Disparities in Bail Decisions

Racial disparities exist at every stage of the U.S. criminal justice system and are particularly prominent in the setting of bail. In this project, we are collaborating with courts from around the country to test the effectiveness of an intervention that can reduce racial disparities in bail decisions. We hypothesize that these disparities exist because of rushed judicial decision-making and a reliance on heuristics as well as biased beliefs about the relative risk of defendants based on race. Our intervention consists of three components. The first component provides judges with objective information on pretrial risk of white and nonwhite defendants. The second slows down and systematizes judicial decision-making to reduce reliance on inaccurate stereotypes that exaggerate the relative danger of black defendants. The third component provides detailed feedback to judges on their own outcomes over time, giving them the motivation, information, and tools necessary to reduce racial disparities in their pretrial decisions. We will estimate the causal effect of our interventions on pretrial release and misconduct rates (in the aggregate and racial gaps). The pilot phase of this project includes seeking feedback about the clarity of our materials, ensuring feasibility and smooth roll-out in the court setting, and administering a survey to assess changes in pre- and post-intervention perceived risk of white and non-white defendants, as well as trade-offs between release and pretrial misconduct.

RFP Cycle:
SLII RFP V [Sept 2019]
United States of America
  • Full project