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Cruelty and Cost: Money Bail in Buffalo

Date: Apr 26, 2018
Author(s): Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Colleen Kristich
Topic(s): Criminal Justice: Courts, Criminal Justice: General, Government: General
Type: Report

This policy report was drafted by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, Deputy Director at PPG, and Colleen Kristich, Master of Social Work Candidate at the University at Buffalo.
It presents new data on bail in Buffalo, including frequency of money bail, average amounts by level and type of offense, and racial disparities. This dataset is based on PPG's observation of 240 arraignment hearings from November 2017 to February 2018.
The report includes several stories from Buffalo City Court, explores the harmful impacts of money bail, and offers recommendations for reform.

Key findings from our observation of 240 arraignment hearings:

  • Money bail is still frequently used in Buffalo: it is set as a condition of release in 64% of arraignment hearings.
  • Average bail amounts in Buffalo are far higher than in New York City. Median bail for a misdemeanor in Buffalo is $5,000; in New York City, it’s $1,000. Median bail for a felony charge in Buffalo is $10,000; in New York City, it’s $5,000.
  • Median bail is set five times higher on misdemeanors in Buffalo than in New York City, and twice as high on felonies.
  • White defendants charged with misdemeanors were more likely to be released pretrial than defendants of color. 54% of white defendants were released, compared to only 37% of black defendants and 32% of Latino defendants.
  • Bail is set arbitrarily and inconsistently in Buffalo City Court. There is often no rationale stated for why a defendant should be held in jail pretrial, and when a reason is given, the amount of bail hardly changes.
  • How often a judge sets money bail varies widely, ranging from a judge who sets money bail in 92% of cases to a judge who sets it in just 46% of cases. 


The authors wish to extend their gratitude to court watchers Schyler Norton, Rosa Guerrero, and Molly Spakowski, as well as former PPG interns Sarah Alpert and Anna Magavern who worked on earlier drafts. Thanks are also due to Rebecca Town and Kevin Stadelmaier at the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo; Insha Rahman at the Vera Institute of Justice; Sean Hill at the Katal Center for Health, Equity, and Justice; and Katie Schaffer at Just Leadership USA.