Reducing Racial Disparities in Bail Decisions: An Experiment on Public Accountability and Feedback in Texas
Racial disparities exist at every stage of the U.S. criminal justice system and are particularly prominent in the setting of bail. These racial disparities in bail are even larger for the sizeable youth population. In settings like Harris County, TX, a site in our study, almost 40 percent of arraigned defendants are between the ages of 14-24 and black defendants are more than 34 percent more likely to be detained compared to whites. In this project, we are collaborating with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition to test the effectiveness of a two-pronged intervention that can reduce racial disparities in bail decisions for individuals in 4 sites in Texas. This intervention includes a public report card for judges on their bail decisions, in particular for youth and minorities, which we believe can increase accountability and transparency. The intervention also includes detailed private feedback and personalized tips to judges on their decisions, giving them the motivation, information, and tools to reduce racial disparities in their pretrial decisions. We will estimate the causal effect of our intervention on pretrial release and misconduct rates (in the aggregate and racial gaps), with a particular focus on youth.