Leaders Unite to Question Pretrial Risk Assessment Instruments

In “The Use of Pretrial ‘Risk Assessment’ Instruments: A Shared Statement of Civil Rights Concerns” over 100 civil rights leaders and groups united to discuss concerns over the use of risk assessment algorithms in lieu of money bail.  The statement, signed by such organizations as the American Civil Liberties Union, MoveOn and the NAACP, indicates that risk assessment has done little alleviate the racial inequity that exists when jailing individuals pretrial.  The statement shows that risk assessment algorithms often consider limited data to produce a prediction as to whether an individual will show up in court.  Many critics of risk assessment feel that using these instruments to determine whether someone should be released from jail may increase the likelihood that they will be incarcerated pretrial.

Critics of risk assessment argue that these instruments should not be used to determine whether someone should be detained since they are driven solely by the data that is inputted and that data may be inherently flawed.  If the algorithm is based on data that is biased to begin with then the outcome will be biased as well.  As argued in the statement: “Real reform addresses underlying structural inequalities, rather than attempting to triage a structurally flawed system.”

Furthermore, concerns have been raised over the transparency of risk assessment instruments currently used in jurisdictions across the nation.  While some companies have released the design of the risk assessment tools, many are cloaked in secrecy.

Critics and proponents of risk assessment agree that there are inequities in the criminal justice system.  The problem is in the solution.  A quick fix will not work.  Join us next week as we dive further into the principles for risk assessment presented by civil rights leaders in their joint statement.

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