Liberating Our Health: Ending the Harms of Pretrial Incarceration and Money Bail

February 2020

National research report on the pathways through which pretrial incarceration and money bail impact health with considerations for how to prioritize community health instead of punishment. We partnered with Faith in Florida for the first county-specific research brief to inform local policy decisions.


Around 482,000 people in the US are incarcerated before they have even been convicted of the charges against them — and 90% remain incarcerated simply because they can’t afford to pay the bail amount set for them.

While money bail is theoretically meant to ensure that people return to court for their trial, research in places that have already ended the practice of setting money bail shows that 9 out of 10 people still return to court on their own.

Because of the inequitable application of policies that criminalize activities associated with poverty and other forms of marginalization, pretrial incarceration disproportionately impacts people who are historically and structurally marginalized. People who are undocumented also face particular harm due to the interconnected nature of the systems of incarceration and immigration enforcement.

In this report, we examine the health impacts of money bail and pretrial incarceration through 6 key pathways:
  • Economic insecurity
  • Loss of employment
  • Loss of housing
  • Conditions of confinement
  • Inadequate healthcare
  • Loss of social support and community cohesion

Throughout the report, we include stories and quotes from those who have been directly impacted by pretrial incarceration and those who are organizing around this issue.

Our vision is of a system of pretrial liberation: a system where we’re investing public resources to address the root causes of rearrest and failure-to-appear rates as a way to build toward a future that does not rely on incarceration. Rather than recreating the harms of the criminal legal system through reforms such as the use of pretrial risk assessments or e-carceration, we recommend a public health framework that invests in health, not punishment.

Our work so far consists of two parts:
  • Our national research report, reviewed by Pilar Weiss of the National Bail Fund Network, evaluates the health impacts of money bail and pretrial incarceration. For the report, we interviewed people across the US, including those who have experienced pretrial incarceration, their loved ones, and community organizers working on the issue. For more information on this report, contact Christine Mitchell at
  • Our first local research brief on bail reform in Hillsborough County, FL was written in partnership with Faith in Florida, highlighting the issue of pretrial incarceration in the county and the political context for reform. For more information on Faith in Florida’s work, contact Nanci Palacios at

If your organization would like to work with us on a research brief on pretrial incarceration in your local context, contact Christine Mitchell at

Read the Full Report