Bail reform increased recidivism rates for violent offenders: Study

Bail reform has been a hot topic in the criminal justice arena, particularly in New York, where significant legislative changes were enacted in 2019. These reforms aimed to address disparities in pretrial detention practices and promote fairness within the system. Now, a new study offers fresh insights into the impact of these reforms, specifically focusing on suburban and upstate regions. As policymakers and stakeholders continue to navigate the complexities of bail reform, this study provides valuable findings on its effects on recidivism rates and pretrial detention practices. In this blog post, we delve into the key findings of this study and discuss their implications for ongoing reform efforts.

Bail reforms officially took effect statewide in January 2020. When first enacted, New York’s bail reform law set a limited number of qualifying offenses that were considered bail-eligible, meaning that judges had discretion to set bail. These were mostly violent felony offenses, while misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies remained ineligible for bail. Among the qualifying offenses, judges were required to consider flight risk and the defendant’s ability to pay when making bail decisions. In most of these cases, defendants were subject to mandatory release, often on their own recognizance or with strict conditions for supervised release.

Not surprisingly, re-arrest rates for certain people (felons and those with extensive criminal histories) increased under the original reforms. This was noticeable just three months after the law took effect, prompting amendments in April 2020 that expanded bail eligibility for certain crimes. The amendment also specified additional conditions of release that the judge could impose if desired, such as mandatory treatment or electronic monitoring. Reforms were again modified two years later, in May 2022, further expanding bail eligibility based on a defendant’s history of using a gun, whether they were charged with causing serious harm, and if they had violated an Order of Protection.

A recent study published by the Data Collaborative for Justice assessed the impact of New York’s bail reform on recidivism rates in suburban and upstate regions. This study builds upon two previous reports examining the impact of bail reform in New York City.


Using data from the New York State Office of Court Administration, the researchers examined people who were arraigned between January 2019 and June 2022. Those who were released without bail in the first half of 2020 were considered the bail reform group. The authors used propensity scores based on different offender characteristics to identify a matched comparison group of people who were remanded before bail reform (i.e., in the first half of 2019) but otherwise had similar characteristics as the bail reform group. Because the two groups had similar observable baseline characteristics, it minimized the impact of other influential factors and improved the accuracy of the estimates regarding the causal relationship between bail reform and recidivism.

The authors followed each group for two years and assessed recidivism rates using four outcome measures: any re-arrest, felony re-arrest, violent felony re-arrest, and firearm re-arrest. For each outcome measure, the authors conducted a survival analysis, which is a statistical model that examines the risk of a certain event occurring while controlling for time. In this case, the different models examined whether re-arrests occurred while controlling for the number of days until re-arrest. In a subgroup analysis, the authors examined whether recidivism outcomes differed based on current charge severity, whether one had a recent prior arrest, or whether one had a recent prior violent felony arrest. All findings from subgroups were adjusted statistically to ensure the comparability of samples.


Overall, eliminating bail for select charges led to little change in recidivism. There were no significant changes in re-arrest rates in the two years following release, except for slight increases in violent felony and firearm re-arrests. When measured at the two-year follow-up, rates for any re-arrest (i.e., felony or misdemeanor) and felony re-arrest remained unchanged, with no statistically significant differences between groups.

However, there were increases in recidivism for certain crimes, such as violent felonies (9.5% vs. 8.1%) and for firearm offenses (2.7% vs. 2.0%). For individuals with misdemeanor charges, bail reform was associated with a slight decrease (42% compared to 45%) in two-year rates for any re-arrest, but there were no significant differences in two-year re-arrest rates for felony, violent felonies, or firearm-related crimes.


Overall, the results indicate that eliminating bail for select misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges led to little change in overall recidivism rates. However, recidivism rates actually increased for offenders with more serious crimes and for those with recent criminal histories. Taken together, the findings may imply that the impact of bail reform on recidivism varies based on the severity of the charges and the individual’s criminal history.

The recent study’s findings contrast with findings from New York City, which were revealed in a March 2023 report. That report indicated a general decrease in recidivism for cases subject to mandatory release and no significant impact on bail-eligible cases. However, the results within subgroups were consistent: bail reform tended to increase recidivism for individuals facing more serious charges and for individuals with a recent prior arrest or a recent prior violent felony.

Interestingly, a September 2022 report by Charles Lehman at the Manhattan Institute also confirmed a significant rise in criminal reoffending after the implementation of bail reform, based on data from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). The data revealed that judges were less likely to set bail and more likely to release offenders on their own recognizance or under non-monetary release (i.e., supervision) following bail reform. These changes led to an increase in criminal reoffending rates, with rearrests rising by 3 to 5 percentage points after bail reform. The study also suggests that rearrest rates rose significantly in upstate regions, attributing the increase in reoffending to the shift towards less-restrictive pretrial detention conditions. Additionally, Lehmen notes that bail reform did not make it easier for judges to distinguish between criminals and highlights the need for smarter reform measures to address these concerns.

It is important to note that not everyone will be amenable to treatment or rehabilitation. Some individuals may present such high risk or have such extensive criminal histories that their prospects for rehabilitation are limited. Failing to incapacitate these individuals in favor of community-based programs can have detrimental impacts on public safety, and it is vital for policymakers to recognize this fact. In many cases, long-term confinement will be more effective for maintaining public safety than community-based alternatives.


The ongoing evaluation of New York’s bail reform measures, particularly in suburban and upstate regions, offers crucial insights into their effects on recidivism rates. Bail reform measures were originally implemented to increase fairness in the criminal justice system without increasing recidivism rates, but so far the policies do not seem to be having the intended effect. Not only has bail reform shown little change in recidivism rates for misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges, but it appears to have actually increased recidivism rates for individuals facing more serious charges and those with recent criminal histories. These findings underscore the importance of considering the varying effects of reform measures based on the severity of charges and an individual’s criminal background.

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