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The Pretrial Detention Penalty: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Pretrial Detention and Case Outcomes

It has long been argued that defendants detained pretrial face more severe case outcomes than released defendants. Considering the magnitude, directionality, and significance of these findings,

this article uses systematic review and meta-analysis to examine the average effect of pretrial detention on a series of case processing outcomes: conviction, guilty plea, dismissal, charge reduction, incarceration, and sentence length. Assessing 143 effect sizes across 57 studies that met the inclusion criteria, findings indicated that detained defendants face more severe outcomes, with the strongest effect on their likelihood of incarceration. Pretrial detention had a medium effect on convictions, guilty pleas, and dismissals, a smaller effect on sentence length, and a non-significant, small effect on charge reductions. The studies’ effect sizes were heterogeneous, highlighting the importance of jurisdictional differences in policies and practices. Moderator analyses were used to assess this variation. Future research should examine how disparity cumulates via the pretrial detention penalty.


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