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Roughly half of U.S. counties do not provide defense counsel at bail hearings and few studies have documented the potential impacts of legal representation at this stage. This paper presents the results from a field experiment in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that provided a public defender at a defendant's initial bail hearing. The presence of a public defender decreased the use of monetary bail and pretrial detention without increasing failure to appear rates at the preliminary hearing. The intervention did, however, result in a short-term increase in rearrests on theft charges, although a theft incident would have to be at least 8.3 times as costly as a day in detention for jurisdictions to find this tradeoff undesirable.

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The research described in this report was funded by Arnold Ventures and conducted by the Justice Policy Program within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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