1 minute read


Bail, Release And Detention In The Twenty-first Century

Bail practices in the United States have changed considerably in law and practice since Pound and Frankfurter excoriated the bondsmen as "anomalous" and as "that extra legal parasite" in their study of justice in Cleveland in 1922, and since Arthur Beeley found in his study of the Chicago jail that many "dependable" defendants who could have been released safely and be expected to return to court were held in detention merely because they were poor and unable to post the cash bail. The bail reform movement developed pretrial services agencies to assist in pretrial release decisions and encouraged greater nonfinancial release. The first generation of bail reform shaped the landmark legislation in the Federal Bail Reform Act of 1966 and transformed the way important liberty decisions were conducted. The second generation of reform built on these accomplishments and explicitly recognized the community protection agenda of the pretrial release and detention process, establishing procedures for determining pretrial detention and its review.

With much accomplished, there is also much that remains unresolved or only partly addressed. Traditional cash-based detention practices remain the norm in most non-federal jurisdictions at the outset of the twenty-first century. Few states have adopted the federal or District of Columbia models of pretrial release decision-making. And, when features of these laws have been adopted by states, they have been accepted in a piecemeal fashion, breaking key elements away from the overall reform concept, and failing to incorporate the due process framework for detention decisions in routine cases. No state that has added preventive detention procedures to determine dangerousness has adopted the District of Columbia provisions prohibiting detention through cash bail. The result is that by allowing the discretionary cash-bail system (and the use of bondsmen and their bond schedules) to continue to exist, the detention provisions remain obscure and seldom employed. The use of nonfinancial bail has increased since the 1960s; "low risk" defendants with strong community ties are no longer commonly held in jail. However, the nation's historically overcrowded jails are still filled with the poorest of the poor, principally urban minorities, who are held on financial bail they cannot raise. Efforts to work with the judiciary to review and improve judicial pretrial release decisions are still rare.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal LawBail - The Purposes Of The Bail Or Pretrial Release Decision, The Eighth Amendment Of The Constitution And Defendant Rights