Experts, politicians and pundits have provided different theories as to why, after decades of a downward trend in overall crime, certain violent crimes are on the rise in cities across the country. While many point to the pandemic and the economic collapse that followed, some have focused on more specific aspects of the criminal justice system, and in particular some recent efforts to reform it.
During a congressional hearing in late June, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, suggested reforms eliminating cash bail could partially be to blame for the recent spike in crime. Graham asked FBI Director Christopher Wray if he believed “one of the reasons crime is on the rise is that certain jurisdictions have basically eliminated bail?”
“You catch them on Monday morning and they’re out on the streets Monday afternoon,” Graham said.
While Wray did not directly answer Graham’s question, he suggested that “one of the causes of the violent crime spike are certain kinds of prosecution practices,” adding that “there’s nothing more disheartening to a law enforcement officer to see somebody that you worked hard to arrest promptly back out committing a crime again.”
Facts First: There’s no clear evidence linking bail reforms — which have been in place for years in some cities — to the recent rise in violent crimes. In fact, the majority of cities that have seen increases in crime have not eliminated cash bail. Many variables have contributed to the increases Graham is referencing but Asia Despatch has seen no evidence to suggest that bail reform is a major factor.
The vast majority of these cities have not passed reforms eliminating bail.
Studies on bail reform
There have been very few studies analyzing the effects of bail reform on crime rates during the pandemic era and studies done prior to the pandemic have come to different conclusions as to the effects these reforms have had.
“The one exception is New York State,” the report says, “where the reform law existed for just a few months before it was largely rolled back.”
According to the report, “While approximately one-quarter of the defendants released were arrested for a new offense during the pretrial period, very few defendants released pretrial were arrested for a new violent crime.”
Asia Despatch’s Christina Carrega contributed to this report.