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Reforming the Bail System

September 06, 2022

Prof. Paul Heaton discussed the Quattrone Center’s study on bail reform in Harris County, Texas with the Texas Standard.

Paul Heaton, Professor of Law and Academic Director of the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, recently spoke with the Texas Standard about the Center’s study on bail reform efforts in Harris County, Texas.

From the Texas Standard:

Five years ago, Harris County changed the way it did bail for most misdemeanor offenses.

The county began letting those charged with low-level crimes out of pre-trial detention without having to post cash bail. Criminal justice reform advocates said that the move would keep people from spending long periods of time in lockup without having been convicted of a crime. Opponents of the move warned it could increase crime.

Now, new research from the University of Pennsylvania’s Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice indicates Harris County’s bail policies do not compromise public safety.

Paul Heaton, professor of law and academic director of the Quattrone Center, spoke with the Standard’s Laura Rice about the study.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: This study looked at Harris County’s bail reform specifically – but these reforms, I understand, are happening in jurisdictions all over the country. So what is it about Harris County’s situation that interested you?

Paul Heaton: Well, Harris County enacted its reform back in 2017. It started with a federal injunction and then was later memorialized in a consent decree. So it was one of the early movers in this space. And obviously, Harris County is a larger and a prominent county, so it’s one that a lot of bail reformers have been looking to as an example for the sort of reforms that might be feasible in their communities… . 

An expert on legal and regulatory program and policy evaluation, Heaton’s criminal justice work spans a wide range of areas, including measurement of impacts of criminal justice interventions; applications of cost-benefit analysis to CJ programs; and evaluations of the CJ implications of public policies related to controlled substances. His work on policing, courts, and drug offending has been widely cited by policymakers and the media. He has also published numerous empirical studies of tort law and insurance regulation.

Heaton’s work is strongly cross-disciplinary, and he has co-authored papers with legal scholars, psychologists, statisticians, physicians, criminologists, and sociologists. His research has been published in leading scholarly journals such as the Yale Law Journal, Stanford Law Review, New England Journal of Medicine, Journal of Law and Economics, Journal of Labor Economics, and American Journal of Public Health. Prior to joining the Law School, Heaton served as the Director of the RAND Institute for Civil Justice and Professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School.

Read Heaton’s full interview at the Texas Standard.