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Pretrial detention costs $13.6 billion each year

by Bernadette Rabuy, February 7, 2017

Our new report Following the Money of Mass Incarceration looks at the big picture and concludes that the government and families of justice-involved people spend $182 billion each year on mass incarceration and over-criminalization. But for this report we also calculate an important cost hidden within this figure: the cost of locking people up before trial.

This population which has recently grown to be the majority of people in jails, has not been convicted and is legally innocent. Some people were arrested a few hours or days ago and have not been brought before a judge, and others are too poor to afford money bail and must wait for trial.

Animated image showing the growth of the unconvicted population in jails compared to those convicted

On any given day, this country has 451,000 people behind bars who are being detained pretrial. In Following the Money of Mass Incarceration, we put a price tag on how much it costs local governments nationwide: $13.6 billion.

Jail policies matter. There are lots of strategies that individual jurisidictions can adopt to reduce their jail populations. Check out the MacArthur Foundation Safety and Justice Challenge to see community solutions aimed at reducing use of jails and high rates of pretrial detention. And for more on how the poverty of people detained pretrial makes money bail unaffordable and spurs pretrial detention, check out our 2016 report, Detaining the Poor: How money bail perpetuates and endless cycle of poverty and jail time.

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