Criminal Justice:

Impact of Bail Reform in Selected District Courts

GGD-90-7: Published: Nov 13, 1989. Publicly Released: Dec 20, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the impact of the Bail Reform Act of 1984, focusing on: (1) any changes in the number of persons held in pretrial custody under the old and new laws; (2) whether the courts held convicted offenders in custody while awaiting sentencing or pending appeal resolution; (3) the length of time the courts held defendants in custody; (4) a comparison of sentencing outcomes for offenders held in pretrial custody with those released before their trials; and (5) if judicial officers received timely information to assist them in setting bail.

GAO found that: (1) pretrial detention varied but averaged about 26 percent and 31 percent during the entire pretrial period under the old and new laws, respectively; (2) all of the defendants in pretrial custody under the old law were in custody because they failed to pay their bail; (3) the reasons for holding defendants changed under the new law, with most defendants being held because of flight or danger risk; (4) there was a larger number of offenders detained while awaiting sentencing under the new law; (5) the courts released fewer defendants who appealed their convictions and who also received a sentence of imprisonment under the new law; (6) the new law had little impact on defendants' time in custody, since pretrial custody time averaged 114 days under the old law and 106 days under the new law and post-conviction custody time averaged 50 and 56 days, respectively; (7) the median sentence imposed on offenders who received a sentence of imprisonment was similar under both laws; (8) defendants released for all or a portion of the pretrial period received fewer prison sentences and shorter sentences; and (9) judicial officers who set bail did not always timely receive defendant background information to use in making bail decisions.

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