Last week I had the chance to visit with local leaders in Lucas County, Ohio, who are working diligently to reform their criminal justice system. Our team here at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) has partnered closely with them since they adopted LJAF’s evidence-based risk assessment tool known as the Public Safety Assessment™ (PSA). It was implemented in January 2015, and I was pleased to join the local officials in announcing new results that show the PSA is having a substantial impact.
Since the county began using the PSA, the percentage of pretrial defendants released by the court on their own recognizance, meaning they didn’t have to post bail, has nearly doubled from 14 percent to almost 28 percent. At the same time, pretrial crime has decreased, and more people have been showing up for court.
In addition, the data show that black and white defendants are being released at equal rates. The PSA does not take into account factors that could be discriminatory, and we are very proud that the data bears this out. All of these results demonstrate that the PSA is an important part of the county’s plan to improve the local criminal justice system.
We created the PSA to give judges more information that they can use when deciding whether to release or detain a defendant prior to trial. Research has shown that, across the United States, the people that you would expect to be in jail—people who are high risk or charged with serious violent crimes—are often released, while those charged with low-level, nonviolent crimes often remain behind bars. The PSA is designed to address this issue by helping to ensure that those who are the most likely to commit a new crime or to skip court are held in jail or subject to strict conditions and monitoring upon release, and those who don’t need to be in jail are safely returned to their communities.
By giving judges neutral, objective information about the risk that a defendant poses, we can help to make our communities safer and can limit the negative consequences associated with pretrial detention of individuals who pose little risk to public safety.
Roughly 30 jurisdictions are now using, or are in the process of implementing the PSA, and we believe the results in Lucas County show that the tool can be used to address a community’s specific needs.
The magnitude of the changes in Lucas County may be due in part to the circumstances in that community. (You can read more about those circumstances here.) Still, we are very happy with these positive results and the way that the PSA is helping the local officials address their particular challenges.
I want to commend Judge Zmuda, Judge Kuhlman, Sheriff Tharp, and all those who have worked to identify ways to safely manage the jail population and strengthen the local justice system. Our team is going to keep tracking the results, and we look forward to continuing to support Lucas County in its efforts to keep the community safe and protect defendants’ rights.
Matt Alsdorf is former vice president of criminal justice at the Laura and John Arnold Foundation.