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Houston — In response to the growing national interest in pretrial reform and demand for risk assessment to aid courts in making release or detention decisions, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) plans to dramatically expand access to its Public Safety Assessment (PSA) and broaden the level of research on its use and effectiveness.

Since the PSA was launched in 2013, more than 600 jurisdictions have contacted LJAF about possibly using it. This intense level of interest reflects the nationwide momentum favoring evidence-based pretrial decisions. The PSA was developed to address the inequity in the system that causes the poor to be jailed simply because they’re unable to make bail. The PSA is currently in use in about 40 cities, counties and states.

The call for change is clear and now is the time to act,” said Laura Arnold, co-chair of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. Meanwhile, we must develop a deeper understanding of the effectiveness and impact of risk assessment.”

LJAF has issued two requests for proposals (RFPs) — the first seeking a National Provider to aid in the expanded availability and management of a risk assessment process, and the second calling for a group of research teams, tasked with leading a significant broadening of LJAF’s research agenda.

Over the next five years, a group of national pretrial researchers will work with 10 diverse jurisdictions selected by LJAF. They will receive training, technical expertise and implementation of pretrial risk assessments locally.

In the 10 jurisdictions, researchers will focus on: 

  • Understanding the impact the PSA has on a jurisdiction after it’s fully implemented.
  • Broadening the study of the PSA’s accuracy in assessing a defendant’s likelihood to commit new crimes during the pretrial period or return to court for trial.
  • Developing and testing new potential algorithms.
  • Establishing offense-specific risk assessment models, particularly for drunk driving, domestic violence and sex crimes.
  • Deepening the field’s understanding about the impact pretrial detention has on defendants’ lives.

In another 200 jurisdictions, the National Provider will offer extensive support in establishing risk assessment. And for other jurisdictions interested in utilizing risk assessment, LJAF will establish an online Learning Community and Resource Center” in order to provide assistance.

Through this work, we are looking for partners to help us shape the wider release of the PSA and any future models, as well as provide high-quality resources for implementation and ongoing support. Our hope is to connect and increase the communities using risk assessment so they may learn from one another,” said Jeremy Travis, LJAF’s executive vice president of criminal justice and former president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Risk assessment is part of LJAF’s broader research portfolio in criminal justice. Since 2011, the Foundation has helped to foster research, data, and innovation to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the justice system. Leaders in the field have frequently pointed to the pretrial phase as particularly in need of reform, since judges often don’t have basic information, such as a defendant’s criminal history, and their decisions are frequently made in a subjective manner or with the use of fixed bail schedules.

In partnership with criminal justice researchers, LJAF created the PSA, a high-quality risk assessment that uses nine factors to produce two risk scores: one predicting the statistical likelihood that individuals will commit a new crime if released before trial and another predicting the statistical likelihood that they will fail to return for a future court hearing.

While early research results surrounding the PSA have been promising, the Foundation is eager to expand the level of understanding surrounding its performance and subsequent impact on various areas within the criminal justice system. The robust research agenda outlined in both of today’s RFP’s will be critical in turning this goal into a reality.

Researchers have released data involving the state of Kentucky. In that jurisdiction, the PSA was found to be predicting well in identifying the likelihood that a released defendant would commit a new crime and/​or fail to appear at a future court date. Two additional studies, focusing on multiple jurisdictions using the PSA, found the pretrial risk assessment is well-respected by judges and various stakeholders.

Click here for additional information, including recent study results.

To download versions of the Requests for Proposal (RFP’s) click the links below: