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Judicial Release Decisions

Defendant files

Judges need access to objective data to make more informed and consistent pretrial release decisions.

In considering whether to release or detain a defendant before trial, judges often have little information, so decisions are made subjectively or by using a fixed-bail schedule. This leads to thousands of low-risk defendants behind bars because they can’t afford bail, while high-risk defendants who can are free to go.

We supported researchers to develop the Public Safety Assessment (PSA), which gives judges critical information they can use when making pretrial release decisions. The risk assessment, which was created using 750,000 cases drawn from 300 jurisdictions across the country, identifies nine factors to assess three things—whether a defendant is likely to commit any new crime, commit a new violent crime, or fail to return to court—and produces scores on each. To make use of these scores, local stakeholders develop policy frameworks (the decision framework and release conditions matrix) that reflect local statute, court rules, and policy preferences to guide judges’ decision-making and the release conditions that they might impose. Ultimately, the PSA and these policy frameworks empower judges to make more informed, more consistent, and fairer decisions for the individual before them.

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Number of cases nationwide from which data was drawn for the PSA
Number of jurisdictions across the U.S. that Arnold Ventures has partnered with to implement the PSA
Decrease in New Jersey’s pretrial jail population since pretrial reform, including the PSA, was implemented
Proportion of judges surveyed who say the PSA informs their release decisions

How to Get Started

Deciding to adopt a pretrial risk assessment such as the PSA represents an important step in building a more effective and efficient pretrial system. Learn what you need to implement the PSA.

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