As a supporter in the development and use of pretrial risk assessments, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) reaffirms their valuable role in a larger effort to reduce unnecessary and unjust pretrial detention. The statement on bail reform principles released by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) highlights several goals our organizations share: limited use of pretrial detention, transparency in the development of risk assessment instruments, reducing any racial bias in the pretrial process, and public accountability for the operations of the criminal justice system.
But LCCHR’s description of risk assessments as tools that “can defer the responsibility of determining who to detain pretrial and who to release” misconstrues the role of risk assessments. Risk assessments, such as the Public Safety Assessment (PSA) developed by LJAF, do not make pretrial release decisions or replace a judge’s discretion. They provide judges and other court officers with information they can choose to consider — or not — when making release decisions. We believe — and early research shows — that this type of data-informed approach can help reduce pretrial detention, address racial disparities and increase public safety.
LJAF agrees that risk assessments should be transparent; designed and adopted in ways that reduce racial disparity; implemented with community input; and validated regularly by independent researchers. Although we support the use of risk assessments, we also agree with LCCHR that fundamental reform requires more than the introduction of risk assessment into a jurisdiction’s practice. In furtherance of these larger goals, LJAF has launched a national research and technical assistance project to support wide adoption of the PSA.
We are committed to pretrial reform and look forward to working with the Leadership Conference and other organizations on our shared goals.