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Study finds that bail judges show racial bias

A study published recently in the Quarterly Journal of Economics suggests that the average bail set for black defendants in New York and around the country is more than $7,000 higher than for white defendants. The research team from Princeton University and Harvard Law School also suggests that white as well as black bail judges treat black defendants unfairly and make decisions based on racial stereotypes that exaggerate the dangers of releasing them prior to trial.

The researchers studied cases involving 93,914 defendants from Philadelphia County in Pennsylvania and 65,944 defendants from Miami-Dade County in Florida who appeared before bail judges between 2006 and 2014. They discovered that inexperienced and part-time bail judges were more likely to be influenced by racial bias than their more seasoned colleagues. Furthermore, black defendants in Florida were more likely to be denied bail than black defendants in Pennsylvania.

The findings are broadly in line with another study published by the same journal in February. In that study, researchers used an algorithm to determine whether or not defendants should be granted bail and then compared their results to the decisions made by bail judges. They concluded that bail is often denied unfairly to defendants of all races and the number of incarcerated defendants could be reduced by more than 40 percent with no corresponding increase in crime.

Experienced criminal defense attorneys may prepare for bail hearings carefully to ensure judges have the information they need to make sound and appropriate decisions. In order to encourage judges to grant their clients bail, attorneys may point out their previously unblemished records, close ties to the community, gainful full-time employment and the support they receive from their friends and family members. Attorneys could also revisit the issue of bail when evidence emerges that either exonerates their clients or implicates others.

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