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Racial disparties can impact bail decisions

Cash bail is a hotly debated topic in Kentucky and across the country, especially as several studies have indicated that conscious or unconscious racial bias can play a major role in bail decisions. In one study, bail judges in Miami and Philadelphia were shown to have a bias against black defendants, including both white and black judges. The study found that black defendants were more likely than white defendants to be held in pretrial detention rather than given bail; pretrial detention has been shown to be linked to higher conviction rates.

On average, black defendants are ordered to pay over $7,000 more in cash bail than white defendants. Decisions about pretrial detention and bail amounts are governed by a bail judge's beliefs about the defendant's likelihood to skip bail or reoffend. However, statistics show that white defendants are often much more likely to be rearrested after a release on bail. Since the decisions made about bail do not line up with outcomes, the researchers noted that racial stereotypes and biases appear to be influencing these decisions.

Defendants who are perceived to be less risky are often released on their own recognizance without a requirement for cash bail. On the other end of the spectrum, defendants considered to be risky may be held in pretrial detention. Because these defendants enter the courtroom from prison and have a more stressful pretrial environment, they may be more likely to be convicted. Others who are granted cash bail may remain jailed because they are unable to raise the sum required for release.

When people are accused in a criminal case, the consequences of conviction can linger long past the trial and sentencing. A criminal defense lawyer may work with a person accused of criminal charges to present a defense from the first moment, including arguing for release on a reasonable bail.

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