IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Prison Exit Samples as a Source for Indicators of Pretrial Detention


  • Foglesong, Todd S
  • Stone, Christopher


Many governments, civil society organizations, and international development agencies today seek to limit the use of pretrial detention in criminal justice. Motivations vary. Some believe that pretrial detention is ordered indiscriminately and employed for unreasonably long periods; others are concerned with the conditions of confinement and the burdens detention places on families; still others worry about the criminogenic effects of pretrial incarceration. But whatever the motive to limit the use of pretrial detention, it is difficult to imagine the effort succeeding without a good indicator of the extent of its use. Such an indicator has proven surprisingly elusive in countries at every income level. Indeed, it is possible that the effort to reduce pretrial detention in developing countries may actually be hindered by the indicator most commonly used there: the proportion of prison inmates on any given day that is not sentenced. This paper describes some of the flaws with this and other indicators, and shows how domestic governments and their development partners can use a basic and better indicator—the median duration of detention—as a catalyst for change. This paper demonstrates a simple and inexpensive way of developing this indicator – by obtaining administrative data already collected in most prisons and jails about the people who leave detention each month. Everywhere in the world, some number of detainees "exit" each month: some released to continue awaiting trial at liberty, others released at the end of their cases without a prison sentence, and still others whose pretrial detention has been changed to a sentence of incarceration following a criminal conviction. Virtually every prison and jail in the world records the dates of these "exits" whether they are actual releases or merely the reclassification of a pretrial detainee as a sentenced prisoner. Only these administrative data can generate an accurate measure of the duration of detention.

Suggested Citation

  • Foglesong, Todd S & Stone, Christopher, 2011. "Prison Exit Samples as a Source for Indicators of Pretrial Detention," Scholarly Articles 8160718, Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
  • Handle: RePEc:hrv:hksfac:8160718

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:hrv:hksfac:8160718. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Office for Scholarly Communication). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.