Wakefield, S., & Andersen, L. H. (2020). Pretrial detention and the costs of system overreach for employment and family life. Sociological Science, 7, 342-366.
Pretrial detention, or incarceration prior to a legal finding of criminal responsibility, is common the world over. In most countries, between 10 and 40 percent of all prisoners are pretrial or remand detainees. The United States holds the largest absolute number of detainees, but the Americas and parts of Asia have increased their rates of pretrial detention more recently (Heard and Fair 2019; Walmsley 2016a). Pretrial detention is thus common but represents an understudied experience in the broader literature on the social effects of criminal justice expansion.
We analyze the effects of pretrial detention, with and without conviction, to more clearly distinguish effects that flow from the imposition of a criminal label from those that flow from incarceration and additional punishment experiences. Specifically, we exploit the detailed nature of register data from Denmark to compare work, family, and recidivism outcomes for four groups that are difficult to isolate from one another in other available data sources: (1) those who are detained pretrial yet not convicted, (2) those who are convicted and serve their full sentence pretrial,
(3) those who are detained pretrial and then sentenced to an additional term of imprisonment, and (4) those who are pretrial detained and then sentenced to other sanctions (primarily probation). We compare these four groups with a group of people who are convicted but never incarcerated.
We find that pretrial detention may impose unique social costs, apart from conviction or additional punishments, and reduces labor market and family attachments with no corresponding reduction in recidivism for detainees, to the degree that our results can be given causal interpretation. Our results highlight an important consequence of system overreach in the mass incarceration era; men who arguably should not have been incarcerated pretrial, and hence should not have to suffer any damaging effects of this experience, nonetheless experience both the
denial of liberty associated with incarceration as well as longer-term harms once released.
In the sections to follow, we first describe pretrial detention generally and in the Danish context specifically. We next describe our analytic strategy and the difficulties of establishing salient comparisons in the absence of random assignment to differential criminal justice outcomes. We then offer evidence on the relationship between pretrial detention and labor market outcomes, family attachment, and recidivism. In so doing, we aim to broaden the lens of “collateral consequences” research to include forms of carceral contact, like pretrial detention without conviction, that are often hidden from view in contemporary data sets.