Bail and Pretrial Justice in the United States: A Field of Possibility

Joshua Page, Christine S. Scott-Hayward

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10 Scopus citations


In this review of scholarship on bail and pretrial justice in the United States, we analyze how the field of bail operates (and why it operates as it does), focusing on its official and unofficial objectives, core assumptions and values, power dynamics, and technologies. The field, we argue, provides extensive opportunities for generating revenue and containing, controlling, and changing defendants and their families. In pursuit of these objectives, actors consistently generate harms that disproportionately affect low-income people of color and amplify social inequalities. We close with an analysis of political struggles over bail, including current and emerging possibilities for both reformist and radical change. In this, we urge scholars toward sustained engagement with people and organizations in criminalized communities, which pushes scholars to reconsider our preconceptions regarding safety, justice, and the potential for systemic change and opens up new avenues for research and public engagement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-113
Number of pages23
JournalAnnual Review of Criminology
StatePublished - 2021

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  • Bail
  • Bail bond
  • Politics
  • Poverty
  • Pretrial justice
  • Social control


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