Pretrial jail inmates increased considerably despite bail reform


This article was submitted by Leonard A. Sipes, Jr., it includes editorial content which is the opinion of the writer. 


Per The Bureau Of Justice Statistics, after a 37 percent decrease from 2019 to midyear 2020, the number of females confined in local jails increased by 22%. The number of males increased by 15 percent by midyear 2021.

After a 26% decline from midyear 2019, the jail incarceration rate increased by 15%.

Unconvicted mostly felony-based jail inmates accounted for 81% of the increase. What happened to bail reform?


Is the nation’s pretrial jail population increasing because of the receding impacts of COVID or a growing distaste for bail reform?


This article is based on a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the US Department of Justice reporting an increase in the use of pretrial jail detention after considerable decreases before and during COVID.

Jail Image
Copyright free image.


I was the director of public information for the Maryland Department of Public Safety. We took over the operation of the Baltimore City Jail to relieve the city of an onerous fiscal responsibility. We also created a booking center plus additional housing processing all city arrests. The jail and booking center became massively overcrowded because of aggressive arrests in Baltimore and our ability to tie inmates to warrants and past crimes based on computerized fingerprinting.

The difference between prisons and jails is profound. Hundreds of arrestees daily were brought to us fresh off the streets. The majority had criminal histories. Most were under the influence of alcohol or drugs or were addicts. Many had mental health or medical issues. Many had gang-related enemies inside the walls.

What could possibly go wrong?

Jails And Bail Reform

It’s interesting as to what happens in jails and how it reflects emerging criminal justice policy. The national pretrial jail population significantly increased per the latest report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Most assume that it’s due to the lessening of the effects of COVID but some speculate that we are turning away from bail reform either through judicial discretion or legislatively in New York State.

Just hours before the controversial legal overhaul known as the SAFE-T Act was set to take effect in Illinois, the state’s supreme court postponed the bill’s abolition of the cash-bail system. The SAFE-T Act, set to take effect on January 1, would eliminate the cash-bail system through a provision known as the Pretrial Fairness Act. The provision drew bipartisan criticism, including from many law-enforcement officials who deemed the move unconstitutional and a danger to public safety.

Bail reform was designed to take charged offenders (who are innocent until proven guilty regardless of an abundance of evidence) and release them to eliminate bias as to those who could and could not afford monetary bail. The primary concern is the defendant’s probability of appearing for trial.

Pretrial jail inmates increased considerably despite bail reform

Critics Point of View

Critics of bail reform want a provision to take the severity of the crime and the defendant’s criminal history into consideration which may (probably will) keep many additional defendants in jail before trial.

Un-convicted persons in jail accounted for 81% of the increase in the jail population per the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Opponents argue that relaxing the bail system leads to more crime. Bail reform was widely discussed and criticized during the midterm elections.

Bail reform is far from universal. Illinois is not the first state in the country to attempt to completely eliminate cash bail for certain crimes. If implemented, Illinois would be the first state to have this type of elimination. But it is important to note that California, New Mexico, Kentucky, Nebraska, Indiana, New York, and New Jersey have all successfully made some type of changes to their bail laws — each varying on a state-by-state basis. There has been near elimination of cash bail in both New Jersey and Washington D.C.

Key Findings-New Jail Report From The Bureau Of Justice Statistics 

After a 37% decrease from midyear 2019 to midyear 2020, the number of females confined in local jails increased 22% from 2020 to 2021.

The number of males increased 15% from 2020 to 2021.

From 2020 to 2021, the number of white inmates increased 18%, while the number of black inmates increased 15% and Hispanic inmates increased 11%.

At midyear 2021, about 49% of local jail inmates were white, 35% were black, and 14% were Hispanic.

Watch: Parkland school shooter attacks correction officer just months after being in jail
Screenshot: Jail footage


After a 26% decline from midyear 2019 to midyear 2020, the jail incarceration rate increased 15% from 2020 to 2021.

The jail incarceration rate for males was almost seven times the rate for females.

In 2021, U.S. residents ages 25 to 34 had the highest jail incarceration rate, almost 30 times the rate for U.S. residents age 65 or older.

The jail incarceration rate for black U.S. residents was 3.4 times the rate for white U.S. residents at midyear 2021.

Conviction Status And Offense Severity 

Unconvicted persons in jail accounted for 81% of the increase in the jail population.

About 76% of local jail inmates were held for a felony offense at midyear 2021, up from 68% to 70% from 2016 to 2019.

The number of persons in jail for a parole violation increased 33%.

Persons In Jails For Federal, State Authorities

At midyear 2021, local jails held 100,400 persons (16% of all jail inmates) for federal, state, or tribal government authorities.

The number of persons held in jail for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined by 9,900 (down 57%) from 2019 to 2021.

From 2019 to 2021, the number of local jail inmates held for state prison authorities decreased by 8,200 (down 13%).

Unconfined Persons Under Jail Supervision

At midyear 2021, local jails supervised 50,800 persons in various programs such as electronic monitoring, home detention, day reporting, community service, alcohol or drug treatment programs, and other pretrial supervision and work programs outside of a jail facility.


Bureau Of Justice Statistics


We may have the first indications suggesting that the impact of bail reform could be declining. The question is why? If you search for “bail reform,” you encounter endless progressive publications supporting it claiming that it has no impact on growing urban violence.

Arrests have been down considerably for years, especially during the worst of the COVID pandemic. Arrests in 2020 and 2021 plummeted sharply. There were over 4.53 million arrests for all offenses in the United States in 2021. This figure is a decrease from 1990 levels when the number of arrests was over 14.1 million.

Previously, the incarceration rate in jails across the United States dropped 12% over a decade according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Something is happening to convince the judiciary and the public that more people need to be incarcerated pretrial. It may be related to considerable increases in urban violence.

Per Pew, the increase for pretrial incarceration continues in 2022.

We have the first data suggesting a change in attitudes regarding bail reform.

See More

See more articles on crime and justice at Crime in America.

Most Dangerous Cities/States/Countries at Most Dangerous Cities.

US Crime Rates at Nationwide Crime Rates.

National Offender Recidivism Rates at Offender Recidivism.

An Overview Of Data On Mental Health at Mental Health And Crime.

The Crime in America.Net RSS feed ( provides subscribers with a means to stay informed about the latest news, publications, and other announcements from the site.

About the author Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr.

Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of directing award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse and former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. Former police officer. Aspiring drummer.

Author of ”Success With The Media: Everything You Need To Survive Reporters and Your Organization” available at Amazon and additional booksellers.

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Pretrial jail inmates increased considerably despite bail reform

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