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Cities and towns across the country are embracing a new approach to pretrial procedures by utilizing a scientifically based algorithm made with Pretrial Assessment Software called the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) tool. Developed by Arnold Ventures, a philanthropy founded by billionaire John Arnold and his wife Laura Arnold, this algorithm aims to create fairer judicial processes that are less reliant on a cash-based bail system. With the assistance of the National Partnership for Pretrial Justice, jurisdictions interested in implementing the PSA can receive support and guidance. The tool has already been implemented in more than 50 jurisdictions nationwide, demonstrating its growing popularity and potential for positive change.
The Development of the PSA Algorithm
The PSA algorithm was formulated by analyzing 750,000 historical criminal cases from around the country. Through this analysis, the algorithm identifies nine key factors that help determine critical pretrial questions: the likelihood of a released detainee appearing in court, committing a new crime, or engaging in violent criminal acts. Detainees are then scored on a scale of 1 to 6 using a release conditions matrix. It is up to the jurisdiction to determine the appropriate course of action based on these scores. It is essential to note that the PSA was not designed to replace judges as decision-makers in pretrial releases. Instead, it serves as an additional tool that judges can utilize when making decisions regarding the release of detainees before their trial.
The Release Conditions Matrix
The release conditions matrix is a grid that scores detainees based on their historical data. Two key factors in determining pretrial release conditions are failure to appear (FTA) and new criminal arrests (NCA). By considering these factors, the algorithm provides valuable insights that judges can use to make informed decisions. However, it is essential to remember that the PSA is only one component of the decision-making process and should be used in conjunction with other relevant information.
Implementing Bail Reform
One of the primary goals of the PSA algorithm is to end the cash bail system, which can disproportionately impact individuals who cannot afford to pay. By implementing alternative conditions, such as court reminders through text, pretrial supervision, and monthly criminal history checks, jurisdictions can reduce reliance on cash bonds. Currently, individuals who cannot afford bail can remain detained in jail until their trial, while those with financial means can secure their release without even seeing a judge. These discrepancies highlight the need for bail reform and the potential benefits of implementing the PSA algorithm.
The Case of Miami-Dade County
Miami-Dade County in Florida is one jurisdiction that hopes to implement the PSA algorithm to reform its pretrial bail processes. Chief Judge Nushin Sayfie emphasizes the importance of ensuring that individuals are not held in jail solely due to their inability to pay bail. Additionally, she aims to protect the community by ensuring that individuals who pose a threat undergo a thorough judicial review before being released. By incorporating the PSA algorithm into their decision-making process, Miami-Dade County hopes to achieve these goals and create a fairer and more effective pretrial system.
Opposition and Criticism
Despite the potential benefits of the PSA algorithm, there are critics on both sides of the bail reform issue. Some individuals, like Patrick Kenneally, the McHenry County State Attorney in Illinois, are skeptical of the algorithm’s ability to fundamentally change the court system or improve the accuracy of predicting future behavior. However, it is important to note that the PSA algorithm is not intended to predict serious crimes with a high degree of accuracy. Its primary purpose is to provide judges with additional information to make informed decisions about pretrial releases.
Addressing Concerns and Criticisms
One of the primary concerns raised by critics is the presence of inherent racial bias in the factors considered by the PSA algorithm. Megan Guevara, executive partner with the Pretrial Justice Institute, argues that using criminal history data can perpetuate racial disparities, as individuals of color are more likely to have been arrested or convicted due to systemic issues. While those involved in the development of risk assessment tools acknowledge that racial disparities persist, they believe that the PSA algorithm can help reduce reliance on cash bail. However, it is crucial to recognize that the algorithm alone cannot eliminate disparities in the system and that additional efforts are needed to address these issues.
Examining the Impact of the PSA Algorithm
To assess the effectiveness of the PSA algorithm, it is essential to examine its implementation in various jurisdictions. New Jersey, for example, began applying the algorithm as part of a comprehensive overhaul of its judicial system in 2017. The inmate population decreased, and serious crime offenses also saw a decline. While these positive outcomes demonstrate the potential benefits of the PSA algorithm, it is crucial to consider the impact of external factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which may have influenced the results.
In contrast, Bernalillo County in New Mexico reported that the majority of detainees recommended for release by the algorithm were still detained due to the severity of their crimes. This highlights the complexity of pretrial decisions and the need for a comprehensive approach that considers various factors beyond the PSA algorithm.
Future Outlook and Conclusion
Despite the criticisms and concerns surrounding the PSA algorithm, many jurisdictions are enthusiastic about its potential to reform the pretrial bail system. Judges like Chief Judge Nushin Sayfie of Miami-Dade County believe that implementing the algorithm can improve public safety and ensure that low-risk individuals are not unnecessarily detained. While the PSA algorithm is not a perfect solution and cannot eliminate all disparities in the criminal justice system, it represents a significant step towards creating fairer and more effective pretrial procedures.
As jurisdictions continue to implement the PSA algorithm and gather data on its impact, it is crucial to remain open to adjustments and improvements. By combining the algorithm with comprehensive reforms and addressing concerns related to racial bias, the criminal justice system can move closer to a more equitable and effective pretrial process. With ongoing research and evaluation, the potential benefits of the PSA algorithm can be maximized, leading to a fairer and more just judicial system for all.