Abstract: Time to Bail out: Differences in Length of Incarceration Among Jailed Women and Men (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Time to Bail out: Differences in Length of Incarceration Among Jailed Women and Men

Friday, January 17, 2020
Independence BR B, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer Kenney, PhD, Assistant Professor, California State University, Sacramento, Sacramento, CA
Matthew Dolliver, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL
Background and Purpose: One’s ability or inability to bail out of jail is a stark indicator of inequality and has a lasting effect on one’s experience within the criminal justice system. Bail amounts have been traditionally set based on the seriousness of the case, the defendant’s criminal history, and the potential threat that the defendant poses to society. Unfortunately, multiple studies have shown that gender, race, and socio-economic status have a deleterious impact on cash bail. Unable to pay bail, women and men can sit in jail for days, weeks, months, or years – waiting. This study tests for differences in how long women and men stay in pretrial detention over time.

Methods: Data for this study come from official booking records for one county jail in the southeastern U.S. in 2017. As part of standard booking procedures, individual’s sex, race, age, charge, whether bail was set, and the amount of bail were all recorded. Additionally, the date and time individuals were booked into the jail and the date and time the individual posted bail were also recorded. A Kaplan-Meiers survival analysis was used to examine the time it took for men and women to post bail. This method was used over an actuarial analysis, as it more readily accounts for censored data and produces a mean survival time for each group that the actuarial method does not. Additionally, this is a nonparametric test and, hence, no assumptions were made about the distribution of time it took for individuals to post bail. A survival curve was used to compare the number of hours for men and women to bail out.

Results: The Log Rank test suggests that the difference between men and women was highly significant (χ2 = 9.37, p < 0.002). Only about 40% of men remain in jail after 48 hours, compared with approximately 65% of women. Women were (1 - 0.661) 34% less likely to post bail than men, and non-Whites were 22% less likely than Whites to post bail within 48 hours of entering jail.

Implications: Keeping women in jail past forty-eight hours helps no one. On average, it costs $91.16 per day to keep a person incarcerated in this country. It has a negative impact on women’s lives in the areas of employment, housing, finances, and family. While the government pays to incarcerate female defendants, the risks of recidivism for them compound upon one another. Without employment, housing, money to pay bills, and strong connections to their children and other family and community members, women become more susceptible to the risks that impede their ability to support themselves with the necessary social capital. If released, female defendants would be able to not only adequately participate in their defense, but also lower the likelihood of being convicted and receiving a long sentence. Bail reform is needed to ensure that all women receive fair treatment when bail is set, fair treatment that considers mitigating circumstances and allows women to lead productive lives in their communities.