A primary goal of the bail reform movement is to eliminate money bail—a practice that is fundamentally unfair and disproportionately burdens people of color and those with low incomes. But before this goal is reached—and while the vast majority of courts across the country still use money bail—what can be done to mitigate the harm it causes?

In April 2018, the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera) developed and launched the Bail Assessment Pilot, a mini-demonstration project in the Bronx and Queens arraignment courts in New York City. The project was designed to challenge the way bail is typically set, which—until the enactment of new legislation in January 2020—does not explicitly require consideration of a person’s ability to pay. As part of the Bail Assessment Pilot, Vera created an ability to pay calculator, a tool consisting of 30 questions asked of the person being arraigned, or a family member, to estimate how much bail someone can afford and in what form. The person’s “ability to pay” is the amount of bail that is reasonably affordable, will not cause undue hardship, and will not take away from money that is need for necessities such as rent, food, childcare, and transportation.

Vera is collecting data from the Bail Assessment Pilot to study how information about people’s ability to pay affects judges’ bail decisions. A final report will be released in 2020.

To learn more about the Bail Assessment Pilot and how it works, read A Means to an End: Assessing the Ability to Pay Bail.

Project Objectives

  • Launch and study a pilot project to assess the impact of providing an individualized calculation of a person’s ability to pay on bail decisions.

  • Create a tool that can be used nationally to influence courts to set more affordable bail and to end wealth-based detention.