School of Professional Studies

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Administration (MPA)


School of Professional Studies

Chief Instructor

Mary Piecewicz


Nationwide, there is a systemic problem with bail determination: the process that a citizen goes through after they are arrested and before they go to trial to determine guilt or innocence for the crime they have been accused of committing. The United States leads all other countries with approximately half a million individuals detained before trial each year, a number nearly double the next highest country (China) (Nejdl, 2017). The high rate of pre-trial detention in the United States is due to both widespread use of monetary bail and the limited financial resources of most defendants; specifically, African American men. Despite the potential longterm impact of bail determinations in criminal cases, bail officials have relatively few legal constraints and have significant discretion, especially in state courts where the initial bail determination is treated as a minor administrative processing task. Instead of engaging in a meticulous assessment of a defendant’s flight and safety risk, pragmatically taking into consideration relevant factors such as ability to pay bail, bail officials all too often administer arbitrary money bonds that result in pre-trial detention for the poor and disadvantaged. In this paper, I start with the history of the bail system in the United States, showing its original intent. From there, I outline what the current laws and statutes from state and federal perspectives look like in theory before transitioning to what the system looks like in reality. Then, I take a deeper look using first- and second-generation studies to prove that there truly are racial disparities in bail determination. Finally, I contend that there are ways to improve this twisted system that has continued the systemic oppression of African Americans in the judicial system.



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