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New York — Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) today released the results of a large-scale, two-year research project focused on the role that data and analytics can play in helping judges determine what risk defendants who have been arrested pose to public safety and whether they should be detained in jail or released prior to trial.

The research found that scientific, data-driven, risk assessments can assist judges in making decisions about what risks defendants pose and allow jurisdictions to spend less money on pretrial incarceration while better protecting the public.

More than 60 percent of people in our nation’s jails today are being detained prior to trial and have not been convicted of a crime — at a cost of $9 billion annually. Less than 10 percent of courts currently use data-driven, objective, risk assessments to help them make decisions about the risk to the community that a defendant poses. As a result, research shows that many non-violent, low-risk defendants are held in jail prior to trial, while high-risk defendants are frequently released.

Researchers studied 750,000 cases from more than 300 jurisdictions across the nation and tested hundreds of possible factors that might correlate to a defendant’s risk level. After evaluating these factors, researchers identified nine factors, based largely on the defendant’s prior criminal history, that were the strongest predictors of risk.

Using those findings, LJAF developed a comprehensive, universal risk assessment — the Public Safety Assessment-Court (PSA-Court) — that can accurately, quickly, and efficiently assess the risk that a defendant will engage in violence, commit a new crime, or fail to come back to court.

Giving judges data-driven, analytic tools to assist them in making pretrial decisions can create safer communities, save taxpayer dollars, and make our criminal justice system fairer,” said LJAF Vice President of Criminal Justice Anne Milgram.

All of Kentucky’s 120 counties have been using the PSA-Court since July 2013, and early results are extremely promising. The tool will soon be deployed in other pilot sites and will be followed by a national rollout.

The research summary may be accessed here.