Pretrial incarceration—the detention of people presumed innocent who remain in jail pending the resolution of the charge(s) against them—is the single biggest factor driving the Wayne County Jail population. Large numbers of people are booked into the jail for lower-level offenses, such as misdemeanors, local ordinance violations, or civil offenses. Because the people charged with these offenses do not stay in the jail as long, they make up a smaller proportion of the average daily population (ADP) than those charged with felonies. It is important to note, however, that the Wayne County Jail is a post-arraignment facility, which means that even people who are released quickly usually have spent one to three days in the Detroit Detention Center or local lockups before even getting to the Wayne County Jail. Many people are held in jail pretrial because bail has been set, and they cannot afford to pay. Even for a post-arraignment facility, the number of people released without having to post cash bond is very low. Finally, while many people are held in the jail pretrial and then released on time served, even people who are ultimately sentenced to jail time frequently spend most of their time in jail before being sentenced.

Research shows that pretrial incarceration can increase both the likelihood of a sentence to incarceration and the length of that sentence; it can also increase the likelihood of a new arrest or failure to appear in court after being released.[] See for example Léon Digard and Elizabeth Swavola, Justice Denied: The Harmful and Lasting Effects of Pretrial Detention (New York: Vera Institute of Justice, 2019),; Christopher Lowenkamp, Marie VanNostrand, and Alexander Holsinger, The Hidden Costs of Pretrial Detention (Houston, TX: Laura and John Arnold Foundation, 2013),; Christopher Lowenkamp, Marie VanNostrand, and Alexander Holsinger, Investigating the Impact of Pretrial Detention on Sentencing Outcomes (Houston, TX: Laura and John Arnold Foundation, 2013),; Paul Heaton, Sandra G. Mayson, and Megan Stevenson, “The Downstream Consequences of Misdemeanor Pretrial Detention,” Stanford Law Review 69, no. 3 (2017), 711-794,; and Megan T. Stevenson, "Distortion of Justice: How the Inability to Pay Bail Affects Case Outcomes," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 34, no. 4 (2018), 511-542,

Key Findings

  • People being detained pretrial make up just over half of the ADP of the jail.


  • Fifty-three percent of jail bookings are for lower-level criminal and civil offenses.


  • Charges related to suspended licenses, registrations, and lack of vehicle insurance are the single biggest category of admissions to the jail, making up 14 percent of all bookings. Wayne_Co_Dig_Rprt_Figs_V4_Figure-3.png#asset:33540
  • Only 9 percent of people booked into the jail are released on personal recognizance.
  • Thirty-nine percent of people with bonds of $5,000 or less remained in jail until their cases were resolved.


Reduce pretrial incarceration by reducing custodial arrests, increasing pretrial release, reducing the criminalization of civil issues, and expanding pretrial diversion.

There are several immediate steps that Wayne County can take to reduce pretrial detention. First, the county should reduce the number of custodial arrests that lead to jail bookings. One way to achieve this would be to use alternatives to arrest, such as issuing appearance tickets or using alternative approaches to help people with mental illnesses. Custodial arrests can also be minimized by reducing the number of outstanding bench warrants that are issued for failure to appear in court, which drive admissions into the Wayne County Jail. There are many ways to improve court appearance rates without using arrest, such as:

  • implementing automated court date reminders;
  • reorienting court policies and practices to support appearance and compliance;
  • providing alternative responses to failures to appear, such as grace periods or online appearance options; and
  • implementing warrant amnesty programs.

To further reduce pretrial incarceration, Wayne County should:

  • minimize the number of people being held in jail on cash bail;
  • reduce the criminalization of civil issues such as offenses related to suspended licenses, registrations, and lack of insurance; and
  • increase the availability of pretrial diversion programs as an alternative to incarceration and to reduce criminal justice system involvement.