Pre-trial Release and Algorithm-Based Judgments

Why Both Sides Agree that Bail Alternatives Don’t Solve the Problem

Bail reform debates are raging across the country, but what is the alternative?  Proposed algorithm-based judgments to determine pretrial release seem to exacerbate the problem.  Bail reformers argue that bail discriminates against minorities and the disenfranchised, but many argue that the alternative – risk-based algorithms- only increase the likelihood for discrimination.

Both sides seem to agree that the alternative isn’t the answer.  On the right many people fear that eliminating bail will only increase the number of fugitives, increase crime rates and make streets less safe.  On the left people fear that algorithm-based judgments use biased data that will leave more low-income people and minorities in jail.

To date it seems that no one has the best solution.  When the problem is systemic racism, it can be hard to undue with a quick fix.  The criminal justice system is overburdened, underfunded and broken.  Eliminating bail does not resolve these problems, it could actually make them worse.

Perhaps the only logical solution is bringing all parties to the table.  Look at what works.  What is getting people to show up at court, reducing recidivism and helping the community-at-large?  Give community leaders, bail bond representatives, legislators, judges, prosecutors, victim rights advocates and defense attorneys a seat, encourage discussion and make real progress that benefits everyone.  There is work to be done but replacing bail with a flawed system is not the answer.

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