Awaiting Trial: The Health Effects of Pretrial Detention

Each day in the U.S. there are approximately half a million individuals detained while awaiting trial. This high rate of pretrial detention may be due both to the widespread use of monetary bail, and to the limited financial resources of most defendants. Less than 50 percent of defendants in the U.S. are able to post bail even when it is set at $5,000 or less. While some defendants are detained for only a few days, others are detained for the entire period prior to the final dispositions of their cases.

Long durations of pretrial detention disrupt defendants’ lives, putting their jobs at risk, placing them into extended contact with other offenders, and increasing the pressure on them to accept unfavorable plea bargains. Yet, no studies to date have examined the health consequences of pretrial detention for defendants and members of their families.

Using the detainee records for New York City’s jails, online county detainee rosters, and public incarceration data—and linking these data to NYS Medicaid records—the team will explore how pretrial detention may precipitate serious health issues for both defendants and their families, especially as it relates to long durations of pretrial detention.