Assessment Tools That Decide the Fate of Pretrial Incarceration Are Now Denounced by Pretrial Justice Institute

By Brittany Mason

The Pretrial Justice Institute has changed their stance on pretrial risk assessment tools justly equating whether the accused in criminal court should be incarcerated while standing trial.

Pretrial risk assessment tools were created in an attempt to make a universal set curriculum that calculates the flight risk and possible new crime risk of a person accused of a crime before the trial. The institute identifies common problems during pretrial time, such as bond money and systematic discrimination.

Recently, the Pretrial Justice Institute released a statement expressing their new stance on these assessment tools. They had once supported the use of pretrial risk assessment tools, as they regarded them to be universal unbiased tools which use multiple factors to calculate the flight risk pretrial of the accused. The institute has now stated that, although recent studies show some success in the use of pretrial risk assessment tools, there has been consistent racial discrimination despite the tool.

The institute recognized that the pretrial risk assessment tool had not been the core reason behind successful reform, but rather the people and justifications which had instead focused on the system’s dedication for positive change and the people who are committed to de-carceration. The institute now sees the problem with the tools and has opposed them, as well as their consistent opposition to financial bonds that seemingly disfigure the opportunity of not being incarcerated during pretrial and trial.

The common pretrial risk assessment tool is the Public Safety Assessment, based on research. The system considers age, prior criminal record, convictions and pending charges, previous failures to appear back in court, and the current level of criminal offense. The system will then assign scores that stem from the various answers and levels of the factors previously mentioned. The score will rank the likeness of failure to appear in court, new criminal activity, and new violent criminal activity. The system is not to include factors of race, ethnicity, nor the location of the matters.

The Public Safety Assessment system is used throughout four states and in various counties in various states across the country. The assessment tool is also designed to help local stakeholders in drafting policies that relate to pretrial. The system is meant to adhere to local statutes and local court rules.

The Pretrial Justice Institute had referenced various civil rights activists and groups which have voiced their opposition to the pretrial risk assessment tools. Recently, Media Mobilizing Project and Media Justice led research on the various risk assessment systems and concluded that the tool is not reducing pretrial injustices.

The research conducted discounted factors of race, with gender age and previous convictions, and found that there was still an inherent bias to racial minorities. Further, the research had shown that Latinx and and Black criminal defendants were more likely to be categorized as a high flight risk compared to white criminal defendants.

After this research and scrutiny of risk assessment tools, the Pretrial Justice Institute has released their new outlook on the tools. The Pretrial Justice Institute in their statement has referenced that the pretrial risk assessment tools had achieved pretrial justice in some jurisdictions but had failed in others; however, in both cases, racial discrimination had still been prevalent. They had concluded that they are dedicated to racial justice in all areas of their institute’s focus, including pretrial risk justice, increased use of citations, and financial bonds.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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