Fewer Prisoners, Less Crime? The Elusive Promise of Algorithms

Early evidence suggests some risk assessment tools offer promise in rationalizing decisions on granting bail without racial bias. But we still need to monitor how judges actually use the algorithms, says a Boston attorney.

Next Monday morning, visit an urban criminal courthouse. Find a seat on a bench, and then watch the call of the arraignment list.

Files will be shuffled. Cases will be called. Knots of lawyers will enter the well of the court and mutter recriminations and excuses. When a case consumes more than two minutes you will see unmistakable signals of impatience from the bench.

Pleas will be entered. Dazed, manacled prisoners—almost all of them young men of color—will have their bails set and their next dates scheduled.

Some of the accused will be released; some will be detained, and stepped back into the cells.

You won’t leave the courthouse thinking that this is a process that needs more dehumanization.

But a substantial number of criminal justice reformers have argued that if the situation of young men facing charges is to be improved, it will be through reducing each accused person who comes before the court to a predictive score that employs mathematically derived algorithms which weigh only risk.

This system of portraiture, known as risk assessment tools, is claimed to simultaneously reduce pretrial detentions, pretrial crime, and failures to appear in court—or at least that was the claim during a euphoric period when the data revolution first poked its head up in the criminal justice system.

We can have fewer prisoners and less crime. It would be, the argument went, a win/win: a silver bullet that offers liberals reduced incarceration rates and conservatives a whopping cost cut.

These confident predictions came under assault pretty quickly. Prosecutors—represented, for example, by Eric Sidall here in The Crime Report—marshaled tales of judges (“The algorithm made me do it!”) who released detainees who then committed blood-curdling crimes.

Other voices raised fears about the danger that risk assessment tools derived from criminal data trails that are saturated with racial bias will themselves aggravate already racially disparate impacts.

ProPublica series analyzed the startling racial biases the authors claim were built into one widely used proprietary instrument. Bernard Harcourt of Columbia University argued that “risk” has become a proxy for race.

A 2016 study by Jennifer Skeem and Christopher Lowenkamp dismissed Harcourt’s warnings as “rhetoric,” but found that on the level of particular factors (such as the criminal history factors) the racial disparities are substantial.

Meanwhile, a variety of risk assessment tools have proliferated: Some are simple checklists; some are elaborate “machine learning” algorithms; some offer transparent calculations; others are proprietary “black boxes.”

Whether or not the challenge of developing a race-neutral risk assessment tool from the race-saturated raw materials we have available can ever be met is an argument I am not statistician enough to join.

But early practical experience seems to show that some efforts, such as the Public Safety Assessment instrument, developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and widely adopted, do offer a measure of promise in rationalizing bail decision-making at arraignments without aggravating bias (anyway, on particular measurements of impact).

The Public Safety Assessment (PSA), developed relatively transparently, aims to be an objective procedure that could encourage timid judges to separate the less dangerous from the more dangerous, and to send the less dangerous home under community-based supervision.

At least, this practical experience seems to show that in certain Kentucky jurisdictions where (with a substantial push from the Kentucky legislature) PSA has been operationalized, the hoped-for safety results have been produced—and with no discernible increase in racial disparity in outcomes.

Unfortunately, the same practical experience also shows that those jurisdictions are predominately white and rural, and that there are other Kentucky jurisdictions, predominately minority and urban, where judges have been—despite the legislature’s efforts—gradually moving away from using PSA.

These latter jurisdictions are not producing the same pattern of results.

The judges are usually described as substituting “instinct” or “intuition” for the algorithm. The implication is that they are either simply mobilizing their personal racial stereotypes and biases, or reverting to a primitive traditional system of prophesying risk by opening beasts and fowl and reading their entrails, or crooning to wax idols over fires.

As Malcolm M. Feeley and Jonathan Simon predicted in a 2012 article for Berkeley Law, past decades have seen a paradigm shift in academic and policy circles, and “the language of probability and risk increasingly replaces earlier discourse of diagnosis and retributive punishment.”

A fashion for risk assessment tools was to be expected, they wrote, as everyone tried to “target offenders as an aggregate in place of traditional techniques for individualizing or creating equities.”

But the judges at the sharp end of the system whom you will observe on your courthouse expedition don’t operate in a scholarly laboratory.

They have other goals to pursue besides optimizing their risk-prediction compliance rate, and those goals exert constant, steady pressure on release decision-making.

Some of these “goals” are distasteful. A judge who worships the great God, Docket, and believes the folk maxim that “Nobody pleads from the street” will set high bails to extort quick guilty pleas and pare down his or her room list.

Another judge, otherwise unemployable, who needs re-election or re-nomination, will think that the bare possibility that some guy with a low predictive risk score whom he has just released could show up on the front page tomorrow, arrested for a grisly murder, inexorably points to detention as the safe road to continued life on the public payroll.

They are just trying to get through their days.

But the judges are subject to other pressures that most of us hope they will respect.

For example, judges are expected to promote legitimacy and trust in the law.

It isn’t so easy to resist the pull of “individualizing “and “diagnostic” imperatives when you confront people one at a time.

Somehow, “My husband was detained, so he lost his job, and our family was destroyed, but after all, a metronome did it, it was nothing personal” doesn’t seem to be a narrative that will strengthen community respect for the courts.

Rigorously applying the algorithm may cut the error rate in half, from two in six to one in six, but one in six are still Russian roulette odds, and the community knows that if you play Russian roulette all morning (and every morning) and with the whole arraignment list, lots of people get shot.

No judge can forget this community audience, even if the “community” is limited to the judge’s courtroom work group. It is fine for a judge to know whether the re-offense rate for pretrial releases in a particular risk category is eight in ten, but to the judges, their retail decisions seem to be less about finding the real aggregated rate than about whether this guy is one of the eight or one of the two.

Embedded in this challenge is the fact that you can make two distinct errors in dealing with difference.

First, you can take situations that are alike, and treat them as if they are different: detain an African-American defendant and let an identical white defendant go.

Second, you can take things that are very different and treat them as if they are the same: Detain two men with identical scores, and ignore the fact that one of the two has a new job, a young family, a serious illness, and an aggressive treatment program.

A risk assessment instrument at least seems to promise a solution to the first problem: Everyone with the same score can get the same bail.

But it could be that this apparent objectivity simply finesses the question. An arrest record, after all, is an index of the detainee’s activities, but it also a measure of police behavior. If you live in an aggressively policed neighborhood your history may be the same as your white counterpart’s, but your scores can be very different.

And risk assessment approaches are extremely unwieldy when it comes to confronting the second problem. A disciplined sticking-to-the-score requires blinding yourself to a wide range of unconsidered factors that might not be influential in many cases, but could very well be terrifically salient in this one.

This tension between the frontline judge and the backroom programmer is a permanent feature of criminal justice life. The suggested solutions to the dissonance range from effectively eliminating the judges by stripping them of discretion in applying the Risk Assessment scores to eliminating the algorithms themselves.

But the judges aren’t going away, and the algorithms aren’t going away either.

As more cautious commentators seem to recognize, the problem of the judges and the algorithms is simply one more example of the familiar problem of workers and their tools.

If the workers don’t pick up the tools it might be the fault of the workers, but it might also be the fault of the design of the tools.

And it’s more likely that the fault does not lie in either the workers or the tools exclusively but in the relationship between the workers, the tools, and the work. A hammer isn’t very good at driving screws; a screw-driver is very bad at driving nails; some work will require screws, other work, nails.

If you are going to discuss these elements, it usually makes most sense to discuss them together, and from the perspectives of everyone involved.

The work that the workers and their tools are trying to accomplish here is providing safety—safety for everyone: for communities, accused citizens, cops on the streets. A look at the work of safety experts in other fields such as industry, aviation, and medicine provides us with some new directions.

To begin with, those safety experts would argue that this problem can never be permanently “fixed” by weighing aggregate outputs and then tinkering with the assessment tool and extorting perfect compliance from workers. Any “fix” we install will be under immediate attack from its environment.

Among the things that the Kentucky experience indicates is that in courts, as elsewhere, “covert work rules”, workarounds, and “informal drift” will always develop, no matter what the formal requirements imposed from above try to require.

The workers at the sharp end will put aside the tool when it interferes with their perception of what the work requires. Deviations won’t be huge at first; they will be small modifications. But they will quickly become normal.

And today’s small deviation will provide the starting point for tomorrow’s.

What the criminal justice system currently lacks—but can build—is the capacity for discussing why these departures seemed like good ideas. Why did the judge zig, when the risk assessment tool said he or she should have zagged? Was the judge right this time?

Developing an understanding of the roots of these choices can be (as safety and quality experts going back to W. Edwards Deming would argue) a key weapon in avoiding future mistakes.

We can never know whether a “false positive” detention decision was an error, because we can never prove that the detainee if released would not have offended. But we can know that the decision was a “variation” and track its sources. Was this a “special cause variation” traceable to the aberrant personality of a particular judge? (God knows, they’re out there.)

Or was it a “common cause variation” a natural result of the system (and the tools) that we have been employing?

This is the kind of analysis that programs like the Sentinel Events Initiative demonstration projects about to be launched by the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Assistance can begin to offer. The SEI program, due to begin January 1, with technical assistance from the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, will explore the local development of non-blaming, all-stakeholders, reviews of events (not of individual performances) with the goal of enhancing “forward-looking accountability” in 20-25 volunteer jurisdictions.

The “thick data” that illuminates the tension between the algorithm and the judge can be generated. The judges who have to make the decisions, the programmers who have to refine the tools, the sheriff who holds the detained, the probation officer who supervises the released, and the community that has to trust both the process and the results can all be included.

james doyle

James Doyle

We can mobilize a feedback loop that delivers more than algorithms simply “leaning in” to listen to themselves.

What we need here is not a search for a “silver bullet,” but a commitment to an ongoing practice of critically addressing the hard work of living in the world and making it safe.

James Doyle is a Boston defense lawyer and author, and a frequent contributor to The Crime Report. He has advised in the development of the Sentinel Events Initiative of the National Institute of Justice. The opinions expressed here are his own. He welcomes readers’ comments.

from https://thecrimereport.org

U.S. Gets ‘Abysmal’ Grade on Pretrial Justice

The first baseline measurement of pretrial justice across the U.S. has found most states to be failing, with a few “promising” exceptions, according to the Pretrial Justice Institute.

The first baseline measurement of pretrial justice across the U.S. has found most states to be failing, with a few “promising” exceptions, according to a national advocacy group.

In a study released Wednesday by the Pretrial Justice Institute, authors measured the rates of pretrial detention, use of available risk assessment tools, and the status of money bail systems in every state.

“Needless” incarceration before trail is the primary cause for states’ failing grades: according to PJI’s findings, two thirds of the current U.S. jail population has not yet been to trail.

At the forefront of pretrial justice reform are Washington D.C., where 92 percent of those arrested are released pretrial and no one is detained for inability to pay; and New Jersey, which implemented statewide pretrial services earlier this year, resulting in a 15 percent reduction of pretrial detainees within the first six months.

The report also highlights legislative advances made by Alaska, Arizona, California, Indiana, Maryland, and New Mexico in the area of pretrial justice reform.

While the number of jurisdictions using risk assessment tools has more than doubled in the past four years, authors note that the increase is driven by “a few states and densely populated jurisdictions,” adding that “evidence-based pretrial assessments show that most people released before trial will appear in court and not be arrested on new charges pending trial.”

See also: Risk Assessment: The Devil’s in the Details

The study used money bail as its final measure because “financial conditions play such a large role in needlessly detaining people and giving us a false sense of safety,” according to the authors. New Jersey is the only state to have eliminated money bail, so this is where the U.S. pretrial justice score hovers closest to zero: only 3% of Americans live in a jurisdiction that has eliminated cash bail.

“As long as pretrial systems use money as a condition of pretrial release,” concludes the report, “poor and working class people will remain behind bars while those who are wealthy go home, regardless of their likelihood of pretrial success. This is a fundamental injustice.”

See also: Bail Reform: Why Judges Should Reject ‘Risk Assessment’

This summary was prepared by Victoria Mckenzie, Deputy Editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Philadelphia Weighs Racial Impact of Bail Reforms

Some worry that a risk-assessment tool under development could predict recidivism by weighing factors that serve as a proxy for race and socioeconomic status, ultimately incarcerating more black and brown defendants while allowing white defendants to go free.

BillyPenn.com looks into the racial ramifications of bail reforms that are part of sweeping changes to Philadelphia’s criminal justice system. City officials are working with top data scientists to develop a computerized risk assessment tool that looks at a variety of factors and assigns a defendant a label: low-, medium- or high-risk. Bail will be assigned from there, and the ultimate goal is to get more pretrial defendants out of the city’s jails while working to eventually end cash bail entirely. Criminal justice reform advocates see the end goal as a good one. But there’s a real concern that computerized risk assessment tools could predict recidivism by weighing factors that serve as a proxy for race and socioeconomic status, ultimately incarcerating more black and brown defendants while allowing white defendants to go free.

Hannah Sassaman, the policy director at the Media Mobilizing Project who was recently awarded a fellowship to study risk assessment models, said there are factors beyond race and zip code — which won’t be incorporated into Philadelphia’s risk assessment tool — that can stand as a proxy for race, whether it’s conviction record, job status or arrest history. “If we know convictions are caused by those systemic racist factors, how can we have convictions as a proxy for dangerousness?” she said. The development of a new risk assessment tool for Philadelphia is part of a number of strategies being implemented by a team of stakeholders working on a three-year project to reduce Philadelphia’s prison population by a third. Much of those efforts are being funded by a $3.5 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Can Alternatives to Money Bail Work?

A New York City experiment that used partially secured and unsecured bonds suggests that these are viable alternatives to a system that puts thousands of individuals behind bars awaiting trial because they can’t afford to make bail, according to a report issued Friday by the Vera Institute of Justice.

A New York City experiment suggests that bail methods which do not require paying large sums of money are a viable alternative to a system that is often skewed against the poor.

A report released Friday by the Vera Institute of Justice found that “partially secured and unsecured” bonds could be as effective in guaranteeing a person’s appearance at trial as traditional cash bail requirements that place an onerous burden on most defendants’ resources─often ensuring that low-income individuals are held in detention.

“The findings tell an important story about the possibility of culture change in the use of bail in (New York City) criminal courts, and demonstrate the potential of alternative forms of bail to serve as one more tool to make the current bail system fairer,” said Insha Rahman, a senior planner at Vera and author of the report.

Rahman traced the outcome of 99 cases over six to nine months where defendants were allowed to pay a refundable 10 percent or less of the bail amount set by judges (partially secured bonds) or no upfront payment at all. Judges and defense attorneys were trained on the paperwork involved.

The alternative bail experiment was applied to criminal as well as civil cases.

According to the findings, individuals released under the two bond procedures had an appearance rate of 88 percent, and a rate of pretrial re-arrest for new felony offenses of just 8 per cent.

And pretrial release also resulted in a resolution of the cases that involved a less serious charge than applied at the initial arraignment.

One-third of the cases ended in dismissal altogether, and another 20 percent ended in a non-criminal conviction.

The report acknowledged that the experiment affected only a miniscule number of the estimated 7,000 New Yorkers are jailed awaiting trial every day, usually for lack of resources to make bail.

New York Judges have at least nine different forms of bail they can require to guarantee an individual’s appearance in court, but according to the study, “by default” most choose the two forms that are the most financially burdensome: payment of a full cash amount or a nonrefundable 10 percent deposit to a bail-bond company.

The report said the procedure for issuing these alternative bail bonds needed to be simplified, and judges needed to be educated about their potential for.

Before issuing the alternative bonds, the city’s Office of Court Administration requires at least one person paying to agree to sign paperwork and swear under oath to be liable. That person must be able to demonstrate that he or she has a source of income and will pay the full amount if bail is forfeited.

“Expanding the use of alternative forms of bail will offer more New Yorkers the opportunity to await trial without the harm to employment, housing, family and overall stability that comes from pretrial detention, “said the report.

A full copy of the report is available here.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Getting Bail Right

Releasing the wrong defendants can increase the risk that they won’t appear in court as directed—or commit additional crimes. But holding people unnecessarily can be costly. A series by The Sentinel studies the impact of bail decisions in two Pennsylvania countries.

Setting bail has consequences.

For a defendant, the consequence can be the difference between going home or sitting in jail.

Even a short stay in jail can cost an individual their job or even their home.

For society, releasing the wrong people can mean increasing the chance they will not appear as directed or possibly more victimization.

Holding people unnecessarily can be costly and, as recent studies have found, it can actually lead to an increase in recidivism and crime.

All of this is to say there is incentive for everyone to get these decisions right at the earliest possible point.

Whether a defendant sits in jail or remains free in Pennsylvania can be a matter of what zip code they were arrested in.

In 2016, the average defendant in Pennsylvania’s Cumberland County with monetary bail imposed was expected to pay $10,000 to remain out of jail, according to an analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel.

However, the average defendant in neighboring Franklin County was expected to pay three times that.

Median bail for defendants charged with selling drugs in Franklin County was $100,000 last year, compared to only $25,000 in Cumberland County.

The variations don’t stop at the county level.

In Cumberland County in 2016, median bail amounts per judge ranged from $7,500 to more than $40,000.

Both Magisterial District Judges, Paul Fegley and Vivian Cohick, had set median bail amounts of $25,000.

“My first thought process is I did not bring you here,” Cohick said about dealing with the consequences of bail. “There has been a charge against you for a violation of the law.

“This is not just saying ‘you climbed up on the stool and I didn’t want you to climb up on the stool, so I’m going to paddle your butt.’”

“A person is being charged with a violation of the law,” she added. “That takes away some of the ‘you’re free to walk around and do what you want to do.’”

The Sentinel analysis reviewed all cases entering the magisterial district judge level in 2016 and sorted bails set at preliminary arraignment, which generally occurs around the time of arrest.

Cases where the defendant was issued a summons, usually lower level offenses, were not included in the analysis.

The Sentinel found no significant difference in the types of charges dealt with at arraignment that could explain the variation in bail amounts.

“How long are they going to sit in jail? That would be one of the things that might pop in my head,” she said. “But generally not so much, because I’m scheduling (a preliminary hearing) within three to 10 days. … That would bring them to their preliminary hearing quickly, so if they may not have bail, they may not have to sit long.”

Each year, thousands of bed days are lost at the Cumberland County Prison to defendants who are held on monetary bail before ultimately have their bail reduced and are released without financial conditions.

Most appear as directed. Many are later sentenced probation or other non-prison punishments.

A growing trend in criminal justice is the use of algorithms, known as risk assessments, to help quantify the decision-making process.

A recent study by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation found a county in Ohio was able to get better outcomes with less pretrial incarceration after implementing a risk assessment tool.

“Ultimately we want to just know what the person’s true risk level is,” University of Virginia Associate Professor of Public Policy and Economics Jennifer Doleac said. “Unfortunately, that is impossible.”

Risk assessments to do not eliminate all risk or provide absolute certainty of the outcome of individual cases.

In the case of the Ohio Risk Assessment, roughly five percent of low-risk defendants will likely fail to appear for court as directed if released.

Doleac also said risk assessments do not necessarily eliminate racial or other biases in the system.

“If you are deciding whether or not someone is a risk to fail to appear … and you know the person is unemployed and has no family, we know those things seem like they would be very plausibly causal factors to show back up in court,” Doleac said. “It’s just easier for you to take off if you don’t have any ties.

“But, we also know that black men are more likely to be unemployed, marriage rates are lower and those types of factors are going to be correlated with race.

“You have to draw a line somewhere.”

This is a condensed version of a series published by The Sentinel. Read the full series here. Joshua Vaughn is a 2017 John Jay/Measuresfor Justice Fellow. He welcomes comments from readers.




from https://thecrimereport.org

Is Crime Predictable?

In Philip K. Dick’s “Minority Report,” criminals could be identified before they committed a crime. Computer-generated risk algorithms used by courts to determine whether individuals should be released ahead of trial have brought us a step closer to that world–and our challenge is to use them responsibly, says a George Mason University professor.

Should the increased use of computer-generated risk algorithms to determine criminal justice outcomes be cause for concern or celebration?

This is a hard question to answer, but not for the reasons most people think.

Judges around the country are using computer-generated algorithms to predict the likelihood that a person will commit crime in the future. They use these predictions to help determine pretrial custody, sentence length, prison security-level, probation, parole, and post-release supervision.

Proponents argue that by replacing the ad-hoc and subjective assessments of judges with sophisticated risk assessment instruments, we can reduce incarceration without affecting public safety.

Critics respond that they don’t want to live in a “Minority Report” state where people are punished for crimes before they are committed—particularly if risk assessments are biased against blacks.

Which side is right?

Should the increased use of computer-generated risk algorithms to determine criminal justice outcomes be cause for concern or celebration? This is a hard question to answer, but not for the reasons most people think.

It’s hard to answer because there is no single answer: The impacts that risk assessments have in practice depend crucially on how they are implemented.

Risk assessments are tools—no more and no less. They can be used to increase incarceration or decrease incarceration. They can be used to increase racial disparities or decrease disparities.

They can be used to direct “high risk” people towards support and services or to punish them more harshly.They can be implemented in such a broad set of ways that thinking about them monolithically just doesn’t make sense.

Take bail reform, for example.

Bail reform is one of the most active areas of change in criminal justice right now, and risk assessments have been a key part of many reform efforts. The idea behind the current bail reform movement is that pretrial custody decisions should be made on the basis of risk, not resources.

Instead of conditioning pretrial release on the ability to pay bail—which discriminates against the poor—reformers argue that pretrial release should be determined by a defendant’s risk of crime or flight.

Traditionally, risk of crime or flight was evaluated informally by a judge. Now, many jurisdictions are providing judges with computer-generated risk scores to help them decide whether the defendant can be safely released.These risk scores take into account factors like criminal history, age and sometimes even socio-economic characteristics like employment or stable housing.

One of the more popular pretrial risk assessment instruments, called the PSA, was developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation in 2013 and has since been adopted in some thirty jurisdictions as well as three entire states. The results have been mixed.

New Jersey has seen a dramatic decline in its pretrial detention rate: the number of people detained pretrial has dropped by about a third since the PSA was adopted in January. Lucas County which hosts the low-income city of Toledo, Ohio, has actually seen an increase in the pretrial detention rate since the PSA was adopted.

And a recent report suggests that Chicago judges have been largely ignoring the PSA. Why such different results in different places?  It’s too soon to say for sure, but there are a number of details related to implementation that could make all the difference.

For one, determining what level of risk should be considered “high” is a subjective determination.

In fact, there is little consensus on this issue: depending on the instrument and the jurisdiction, a high risk classification can correspond with a probability of re-arrest that’s as low as 10% or as high as 42%. 

Editor’s Note: For a critical view on the validity of risk-assessment tools, see Eric Siddall’s Viewpoint in TCR, Aug. 25, 2017.

With the PSA, jurisdictions can decide themselves where to set the cutoff points between a low, moderate, and high risk ranking.

These groupings are important, because many jurisdictions also adopt specific recommendations for each risk classification. For example, New Jersey uses a decision-making framework that recommends pretrial detention only for defendants with the highest risk scores: this has been defined so as to include only about 5% of arrestees.

In Mecklenberg County, another PSA site, generally only defendants who are ranked “low” or “below-average” on their risk score are recommended for release without secured monetary bond, making it less likely that risk assessment will increase release rates very much.

The impact that risk assessments have in practice will also depend on the extent to which judges use them. In most jurisdictions, judges are given the final say, and if they do not want to follow the recommendations associated with the risk assessment they don’t have to.

recent survey showed that only a small minority of judges thought that risk assessments were better at predicting future crime than judges.

If judges are skeptical, what would them motivate them? They will be more likely to use the risk assessment if they are incentivized to do so; for example, if deviating from the recommendations requires a detailed written reason for doing so.

Or, if there is a system of accountability where their actions are tracked and monitored. Finally, it’s always possible to implement risk assessment in a way that doesn’t involve judicial discretion at all.

Kentucky, a leader in the use of pretrial risk assessments, recently revised its procedures so that all low and moderate risk defendants facing non-serious charges are automatically released immediately after booking.

As for racial disparities, we know very little about how these have been impacted by the adoption of risk assessment. But what little we do know suggests that implementation details are important.In a recent study, I found that pretrial risk assessment in Kentucky benefited white defendants more than black, but this was solely because judges in the predominantly-white rural counties followed the recommendations of the risk assessment more than judges in the more racially mixed urban counties.

In other words, the increased racial disparities brought on by risk assessment were caused by regional trends in use, not by the bias of the instrument.This pattern might have been reversed if training, monitoring, and accountability in urban areas were higher.

Furthermore, risk assessment is more likely to reduce racial disparities if it is used to replace monetary bail. Since black defendants tend to have lower incomes, they tend to be less able to afford bail than white defendants.

One study shows that half the race gap in pretrial detention is explained by race differences in the likelihood of posting a given bond amount.

Megan Stevenson

We already live in a “Minority Report” state: the practice of grounding criminal justice decisions on predictions about future crime has been around a long time. The recent shift towards adopting risk assessment tools simply formalizes this process—and in doing so, provides an opportunity to shape what this process looks like.

Instead of embracing risk assessment wholeheartedly or condemning it without reserve, reformers should ask whether there is a particular implementation design by which risk assessment could advance the much-needed goals of reform.

Megan T. Stevenson is an economist and Assistant Professor of Law at George Mason University. She welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

NJ Bail Reform Works; Prosecution, Defense Complain

New Jersey’s use of an algorithm to advise judges on pretrial release “is what the new vision of American justice looks like,” NBC News reports. Six months into the new practice, New Jersey jails are already starting to empty, and the number of people locked up while awaiting trial has dropped.

New Jersey’s use of an algorithm to advise judges on pretrial release “is what the new vision of American justice looks like,” NBC News reports. Created by data scientists and criminal-justice researchers, the algorithm — one of dozens of “risk assessment tools” being used around the U.S. — promises to use data to scrub the system of bias by keeping only the most dangerous defendants behind bars, regardless of socioeconomic status. Six months into the new practice, New Jersey jails are already starting to empty, and the number of people locked up while awaiting trial has dropped.

It’s also clear that data is no wonder drug. The new system — driven by years of research involving hundreds of thousands of cases and requiring multimillion-dollar technology upgrades and the hiring of more judges, prosecutors and court workers — still produces contentious decisions about who deserves freedom and who does not. Police officials and prosecutors complain about the release of people charged with gun crimes, fleeing police, attacking an officer, sex offenses and domestic violence, and of those who keep getting re-arrested. In at least two cases, people have been killed by men who’d been released on earlier charges. The bail bond industry, facing extinction, has backed two federal lawsuits seeking to end the algorithm’s use. Defense lawyers and civil rights advocates say people who pose little risk have been ordered detained, only to be given plea deals or have their charges dropped. They fear that authorities are exploiting the new system to generate convictions. It remains unclear whether the new approach will reduce racial disparities, drive down crime rates or be fiscally sustainable. If it works in New Jersey, it could become a model for the rest of the nation.

from https://thecrimereport.org

The Tiger Woods Version of Justice

The pro golfer didn’t have to post bail after his arrest this week on a DUI charge, but individuals who aren’t rich or celebrities are more likely have been shown to a jail cell. Such unequal treatment is a notorious feature of American justice that needs reform, says a report released today by the Prison Policy Initiative.

Tiger Woods spent about eight hours in police custody Monday after he was found asleep and apparently impaired behind the wheel of his Mercedes-Benz on a busy road near his home in Jupiter, Fla.

As a wealthy professional athlete, Woods enjoyed the treatment that the criminal justice system routinely bestows on men and women of standing. He was expeditiously released without bail on a promise to appear in court when summoned.

While Woods walked out the front door, those living on the margins would more likely have been shown to a jail cell.

That dichotomy is the subject of a new analysis published today by the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit. The report calls on state lawmakers to restrain local bail protocols that pack city and county lockups with those who can’t afford to buy freedom.

One in every three men and women incarcerated in the U.S. is being held in a local jail, but that piece of the mass incarceration pie gets scant attention, says Joshua Aiken, author of “Era of Mass Expansion: Why State Officials Should Fight Jail Growth.”

Joshua Aiken.

“Jails are ostensibly locally controlled, but the people held there are generally accused of violating state law,” Aiken writes in the analysis.

“And all too often state policymakers (and state reform advocates) ignore jails.”

Jail populations have tripled since the 1980s, driven up by pre-trial detentions and the subletting of local cells by state and federal authorities, a lucrative side business for sheriffs and other jail administrators in 25 states. In Louisiana, the national leader, more than half of the state prison population is housed in local jails.

About 11 million people churn through the nation’s 3,300 local lockups each year. About 720,000 are confined there at any given time, and about two-thirds of them are detained while awaiting adjudication of their cases because they can’t afford to pay bail.

In an interview with The Crime Report, Aiken said that jail detention can have cascading consequences for those who live on slim economic margins.

“Just a few days in jail can completely destabilize someone’s life,” he said. “People lose their jobs, miss rent payments, can’t coordinate someone to pick up their child after school, and can even lose custody of their children…Even a brief stay in jail can fuel a cycle of incarceration, marginalization and poverty.”

He said jail cells are filled with people already under duress: Two-thirds struggle with substance abuse; about one in six is (or was recently) homeless; more than half are black or Latino, and about one in 12 identifies as LGBT.

Advocates complain that cash bail policies create a bifurcated system—a quick-release track for the wealthy, like Tiger Woods, and a long slog behind bars for the poor.

A person without the means to pay bail or secure a bond in the same circumstances as Woods likely would have been forced to wait days for a court hearing to seek freedom—with no guarantee that a judge would agree.

Judges in many locales are bound by byzantine bail schedules. For example, the document is 135 pages long for Superior Court in San Diego, mandating bail amounts for everything from exceeding the limit of catfish ($25) to first-offense drunken driving ($2,500) to unlawful sale of rhinoceros horn ($5,000).

State legislators are well aware of the criticisms of money-based bail.

Bail policies in cities large and small have been amended in recent years, often prompted by lawsuits. Equal Justice Under Law, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group, has filed bail challenges in nine states that so far have prompted reforms in cities in Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri.

New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans, among many others, also have changed certain bail protocols to try to reduce jail populations, though none has gone as far as Washington, D.C., which essentially eliminated cash bails more than 20 years ago.

“We do see real momentum around this issue,” said Nancy Fishman of the Vera Institute of Justice. She added that many places have moved away from cash bail “without seeing negative consequences.”

“Many jurisdictions are facing overcrowded local jails, and the drivers of that growth are not increasing crime rates (which remain at historic lows) or more serious crime problems, but the increasing use of local jails to hold (for pretrial) individuals who do not pose a risk to the community and are not a high risk of failure to appear in court—but don’t have the money to get out while they await disposition,” Fishman told The Crime Report by email.

The Shelby County, Ala., jail. Photo by David Krajicek

“Reviewing pretrial decision-making and the impact of cash bail is one of the first steps to identifying how to safely and effectively reduce jail populations.”

Mia Bird, a research fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, noted that the Arnold Foundation is now working with 29 jurisdictions, including the states of Arizona, Kentucky and New Jersey, to expand the use of a risk assessment metric the foundation designed to help judges make informed decisions whether to detain or release a suspect.

Among others, Colorado and Maryland also have introduced bail reforms, and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy is advocating a bail-reform proposal now working its way through that state’s legislative process.

In California, identical bills under consideration in both houses of the legislature would curb the use of bail schedules. The assembly bill may get a floor vote as early as this week.

“Bail reform efforts both in California and Connecticut would take important steps to rein in systems of money bail,” Aiken said. “California’s Bail Reform Act takes a number of significant steps to address the fact that the majority of people in their jails are legally innocent.”

But bail reform failed last year in California, and the 2017 bill is facing full-throated opposition from the bail bond industry, represented by Duane Chapman, who found fame in the “Dog the Bounty Hunter” TV series.

Chapman has appeared at public hearings to oppose reforms, and he is the voice of a fear-inducing robocall placed to 800,000 phone numbers in the state.

“You, the taxpayer, will pay to release these criminals,” Chapman warns. “Car thieves, burglars, sexual predators and repeat offenders will get out of jail with little accountability, and we will not be able to go after them when they run.”

The bail-reform bill’s sponsors say Chapman is using scare tactics on behalf of an industry with a financial interest in maintaining the status quo.

In his analysis, Aiken recommended systematic, statewide reforms that transcend piecemeal localized fixes.

Other recommendations included:

  • Reclassifying many minor offenses as infractions or citations that do not impose detention;
  • Diverting offenders with drug, alcohol or mental issues into treatment;
  • Encouraging judges to use non-monetary sanctions rather than fines and fees;
  • Initiating state pilot projects to test pretrial programs that offer alternatives to detention.

He also urged state lawmakers to consider whether subletting local jail cells detracts from the mission of city or county law enforcement.

At least 10 percent of those confined to local jails in 25 states are being held under contract for federal or state law enforcement agencies, which pay as much as $100 a day per prisoner.

In Louisiana, 52 percent of the state prison population is held under profit-making contracts with local jails. Parishes have pursued those contracts by building or expanding jails. Aiken also cited a high percentage of jail cell sublets in Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah.

“Contracts with federal and state authorities allow local sheriffs to generate revenue from jails that are rarely filled with ‘traditional jail inmates,’” Aiken wrote.

“Local officials can pad their law enforcement budgets by renting space…Many sheriffs, especially in recent years, have embraced the for-profit business of renting jail space to other authorities.”

David J. Krajicek (@djkrajicek) is a contributing editor with The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Insurance Firms ‘Corrupt’ U.S. Bail System, ACLU Says

In a special report, the ACLU says just nine insurers underwrite the majority of bonds issued in the U.S. Another report from Texas A&M University , which compares pretrial strategies in two Texas counties, says “automated risk-assessment” tools are fairer for defendants, cost less and improve public safety.

Just nine insurance companies underwrite the majority of bonds issued in the U.S., fueling a for-profit enterprise that has “corrupted” America’s judicial system, charges the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a report released today in collaboration with the  Color of Change organization, a nonprofit group which promotes racial justice.

These insurers, responsible for most of the $14 billion in bail bonds issued in the U.S. each year, “operate with little risk—even leading some of them to boast of going years without paying any losses,” said the report, entitled “Selling Off Our Freedom: How Insurance Corporations have taken over our Bail System.”

Most of the companies operate out of tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, and “their executives operate far from the influence of the people and communities over whom they hold so much power,” the report said.

As a result, says the ACLU, “The bail industry has corrupted our constitutional freedoms for profit: the freedom from exploitation in bail, the guarantee of being recognized as innocent until proven guilty, and the guarantee of the equal application of the law to all people.”

Alternatives to money bail have increasingly drawn the attention of criminologists and local authorities.

Another report, released this spring by the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University, which  examined the effect of various bail strategies in two Texas counties, found growing support from Texas judges for an automated risk assessment tool that employs an algorithm to assign numerical risks to individual defendants, based on their previous criminal history and personal circumstances.

The report cited a 2016 survey that showed four out of five  judges in 174 Texas counties admit they make decisions on bail based on information that is often “unreliable.” More than half said they would prefer some form of automated risk assessment to guarantee court appearance and prevent future criminal activity instead of money bail

The report, ordered by the Texas Judicial Council’s Criminal Justice Committee,  compared criminal case data from the two Texas counties over a 3 ½ year period: Tarrant County, where pretrial release is dependent on financial bond; and Travis County, which uses a validated risk assessment to identify low-risk defendants without financial requirements for release.

Authors of the report concluded that the Travis County approach was not only fairer, but resulted in less cost to local authorities, with no impact on public safety

“When personal bond is automatic for low-risk individuals, financial ability is effectively removed as an obstacle to release,” the study said.  “Ten times more people are freed on non-financial terms, and fewer people remain in detention because of inability to pay a low bond.”

The report made clear that “judicial discretion” remained key to bail decisions. But it cited the results of the survey, noting that fewer than one in give judges described the defendant data now available for their consideration as “very reliable.” Moreover, most (55%) named the lack of validated risk assessment instruments as a specific obstacle to informed decision-making

The statewide survey tabulated the responses of 605 judges representing 174 of the state’s 254 counties. (Over 1,900 were sent the survey).

The survey underlined the report’s key finding that “without risk information available, the financial bail system released 12% more potentially dangerous people and detained 24% more people who could have been safely released.”

Many jurisdictions around the U.S. already use a tool called the Ohio Risk Assessment System-Pretrial Assessment Tool (ORAS-PAT),  which gathers objective information about each individual and generates a score indicating risk of flight or new criminal activity. But Travis County has introduced an automated Public Safety Assessment tool created by researchers supported by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which many say provides more reliable information.

While some criminologists have argued the tool has defects, the report said that it allowed Texas judges to “confidently” make more accurate custody decisions that allow for the detention of high-risk defendants and release of those who can be safely released.

The researchers said that in general, “the costs of a risk-informed pretrial release system are more than offset by savings that occur when defendants are properly classified.”

The study, entitled “Liberty and Justice: Pretrial Practices in Texas,” was prepared by  Dottie Carmichael, Ph.D.;George Naufal, Ph.D.;Steve Wood, Ph.D.;Heather Caspers, M.A.;and Miner P. Marchbanks, III, Ph.D.—all of the Public Policy Research Institute at  Texas A&M University.

The full Texas A&M report is available here.



from https://thecrimereport.org

How the Bail Industry (Successfully) Flexes Its Political Muscles

The bail industry is mounting a well-oiled nationwide lobbying effort to fight state attempts to end cash bail. New Mexico, Louisiana and Maryland are some of the latest frontlines in the battle.

When New Mexicans voted on Election Day to change their state’s constitution, altering the bail process [in that state], they did much more than simply okay a new amendment.

They unwittingly endorsed a proposal engineered by a well-oiled lobbying effort by the state’s bail bondsmen who wanted to preserve their industry. In New Mexico, Louisiana, Maryland, and anywhere legislative efforts attempt to end cash bail, the bail industry fights back.

Their lobbying machine spins up, letters are written, donations are made, swanky dinners and luxurious events are rolled out, arms are twisted.

And predictably, their efforts work.


  • Following the intervention of the bail industry in New Mexico, the language of the constitutional amendment was changed to essentially protect money bail.
  • In Louisiana, years-ago legislative action “inserted bail into the very heart of the criminal justice system.” Now bail bondsmen and the state’s elected judges work hand-in-hand to protect the system, raise campaign cash and even work for one another.
  • After lobbyists for the bail industry in Maryland spent thousands of dollars to wine and dine key legislators at a local yacht club and a steakhouse not far from the state capitol building in Annapolis, proposals to end cash bail stopped in their tracks. On October 25, Maryland’s attorney general tried again, and is finding tough opposition.

The pro-bail pressure comes as the nation – shaken by the consequences of mass incarceration and a fault-filled criminal justice system – is evaluating the basic fairness of a bail system that jails the poor before any proof of guilt for no other reason than the accused is indigent.

Pending lawsuits on behalf of inmates in Cook County and around the country contend that it violates the Constitution to hold anyone in custody simply because he or she is too poor to post bail.

The U.S. Justice Department even told prosecutors across the country that it opposes bail for the poor on constitutional grounds, and a bill was filed in Congress this year to end the system of cash bail.

The argument for bail reform is further spurred by pressure to relieve jail overcrowding and to cut the costs of incarcerating people awaiting trial on nonviolent charges. In late November, two-thirds of those in Cook County jail were being held because they had failed to post the cash bail set for them.

Some jurisdictions, like Cook County, would save millions of dollars each year by releasing the accused to await trial outside of jail.

But the reform efforts face significant obstacles, as Injustice Watch recently reported, and one major stumbling block is the bail bond industry.

The industry is keeping a close eye on reform efforts in Illinois even though the state eliminated its role in 1963, the response to a Cook County bail-fixing scandal.

The chief judge of what was then Municipal Court in Chicago, Raymond P. Drymalski, two of his aides, two state prosecutors and four bail bondsmen were charged with “corruptly, unlawfully, wrongfully, wickedly, deceitfully, willfully and fraudulently” obstructing justice and defrauding the government in the setting of bail.

The charges against Drymalski ultimately were tossed out. But the scandal prompted the state legislature to end the business of bail bondsmen.

For decades since, Illinois has continued the system of judges considering cash bail in each case, but suspects pay 10 percent bond in either cash or secured property to the court system. Illinois is one of only four states in the nation to eliminate bail bondsmen from the process.

That hardly means bail bondsmen are staying out of it as a growing number of Illinois officials are calling for an end to cash bail.

The ‘Invasion’ of Bail Reformers

To the contrary, the policy director of the American Bail Coalition this month wrote of Illinois: “Bail reform activists have invaded the state, selling an end to all monetary conditions of bail in various regional forums in Illinois by advocating for significant changes to statutes, court rules, and of course the Illinois State Constitution.”

Jeffrey J. Clayton, the coalition’s policy director, wrote members of his coalition that a downstate Illinois judge is warning of a “traveling band of progressives” seeking to change Illinois’ longstanding reliance on cash bail, though such a change “is neither inevitable, nor perhaps even necessary.”

Attached to his warning was the 15-page letter by Circuit Judge Craig H. DeArmond of Danville, which Clayton advised bail coalition members to distribute as widely as possible.

The industry’s influence is mighty for two obvious reasons: Jobs and fear.

Cash bail is common in America. Nationally a thriving bail industry employs upwards of 30,000 men and woman who provide the grease that lubricates the criminal justice system.

Steeped in traditions of a centuries-old system, many jurists and prosecutors say they believe bail is the most effective way to keep those accused of crimes from terrorizing the populace while they await processing, or to prevent them from simply fleeing.

Add to that mix the bail industry’s regular use of the fear-of-crime card. The result: bail remains entrenched.

Only the United States and the Philippines allow cash bail. And in most of the world, if one were to pay money to win the release of a prisoner the act would be seen as bribery.

In New Mexico, bail is so commonly used, and the accused are so poor, that upwards of 40 percent of those who sit in pretrial custody would be free if they could come up with $500 or less.

In contrast, Washington, D.C., which all but ended money bail in the early 1990s in exchange for a robust pretrial monitoring system, releases 91 percent of defendants arrested in the District of Columbia on their promise to appear in court. And the city is not the worse for it.

It was a unanimous decision written by New Mexico Chief Justice Charles W. Daniels that kicked off the two-year path to a new constitutional amendment.

Daniels wrote the state Supreme Court’s remarkable opinion that forced a lower court to void the $250,000 money bail that kept Walter Ernest Brown, who was accused of murder, jailed for 28 months awaiting trial.

Not once during that time were the accusations against Brown, who was 19 at his arrest in 2011, tested by the evidence. He sat jailed, presumed innocent.

Daniels and three fellow justices concluded that Brown, whose IQ is a scant 70, was not a threat to the community, had no interest in running, had petitioned twice to live at home with his parents, and would go back to his job.

Even his stay behind bars was marked by model behavior: he took well to counseling and even got his high school diploma.

Those facts about Brown, though, were ignored by the prosecutors and by the lower court judges. He was jailed simply because he couldn’t afford to pay his bail levied for a crime that the authorities said was too severe to release him.

And that, Daniels and his court colleagues said, violated New Mexico’s constitution.

In an ironic turn that reflects the vagaries of the all-too-often errant criminal justice system, not long after Brown was freed, prosecutors dropped the case altogether.

‘Totally Irrational’

In an interview, Daniels put it this way: “The fundamental flaw in our system is using money to distinguish who we let out and who we don’t. It’s totally irrational.”

Matthew Coyte, an Albuquerque lawyer and president of the board of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, noted that many judges seemed to ignore the 2014 New Mexico Supreme Court’s admonition that judges avoid using bail to lock up the poor.

Coyte, whose outspoken advocacy for the accused earned him a Trial Lawyer of the Year award in 2013 from the Public Justice Foundation, laments how the notion of bail has become so “culturally embedded” in the judiciary.

The defense lawyers, along with the ACLU, pushed for a constitutional amendment as the path to reform.

When the amendment was first introduced in December 2015, it said simply: “A person who is not a danger and is otherwise eligible for bail shall not be detained solely because of financial inability to post a money or property bond.”

But that language brought fear to the bail industry, which relies on judges setting cash bail.

Suddenly Clayton, the American Bail Coalition policy director, was negotiating revisions to the proposed amendment. Chief Justice Daniels described what happened as the bail lobbyists “bottled up” the original bill.

New Mexico has a part-time legislature so its two-month session that ended in mid-February was busy. There were spending bills and a number of crime measures, including the bail amendment.

The speaker sent the proposed amendment to committee, where the chairwoman warned there would be no committee vote without compromise.

After two days of intense negotiations by Clayton and three state lobbyists for the industry and Daniels, new language was agreed to. Gone was the original wording.

The changes made things more complex, and more favorable to the New Mexican bail industry.

What emerged was an amendment that added a new process for evaluating affluence – a motion must be filed with the court seeking exemption from bail – and set a requirement that prosecutors must show that a defendant doesn’t require bail.

The amendment also clearly states that judges have the power to keep violent persons off the streets – a power judges always have had.

Suddenly, the bill’s key supporters backed away, and the bail industry lined up behind the amendment.

Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU of New Mexico, said his group was “locked out” of the negotiations over the amendment. “For our money, it corrupted the language to a degree that we don’t feel confident that it overcomes the problems of the past,” Simonson told Injustice Watch.

So Simonson’s group dropped its backing.

Coyte and the criminal defense lawyers turned against the compromise.

Not surprisingly, the bail industry went from opposing the original amendment to supporting the one its lobbyists helped craft.

Clayton said he believes Daniels wanted the amendment so he could move New Mexico away from money bail, except in the rarest instances.

And that, he believed, would be a death knell to the bail industry.

Meanwhile, Coyte said several judges have told him the amendment will not change their behavior. “They said they would use money bonds as preventative detention in cases they believed merited it, regardless of whether the prosecutor was seeking a dangerous hearing,” he said. “As long as judges believe they are tasked with public safety they will continue to ignore the law in this area.”

Nowhere is bond industry as intertwined with the criminal justice system as it is in New Orleans, where more than 2,600 licensed agents and firms thrive in this high-crime city in a high-incarceration state.

Despite much study that shows significant racial and wealth disparities in the arrest and release of those accused in New Orleans, ending money bail to protect the poor hasn’t happened.

One explanation is how the system benefits from high bail, which imposes a 1.8-percent fee on each bail set. The money goes to a Judicial Expense Fund that pays for travel, attendance at conferences, coffee and bottled water for judges, and other perks.

‘The Court’s Gotta Eat’

According to an ongoing federal lawsuit, one judge said imposing those fees on indigent criminal defendants was reasonable because “the Court’s gotta eat.”

There may be another reason: The federal lawsuit, which was filed in September 2015, contended 13 judges and three criminal justice officials set high bails simply to maximize revenues.

Eight of the defendants have hired Blair L. Boutte’s political consulting firm, B-3 Consulting, to help them win their elections. (Judges, the district attorney, and the sheriff are elected positions in Louisiana.)

Boutte, who is a power in New Orleans, also has been the owner and president of Blair’s Bail Bonds for the last 20 years. His advocacy for the use of bail is well known.

Just how much money Boutte earns from his consulting business with the political and judicial elite of New Orleans is not easy to come by. Campaign filings by Louisiana candidates with the state puts the figure at more than a $1 million in recent years. Several payments were made in 2007, with most coming since 2011.

But the accounting doesn’t include many of the clients that Boutte lists on his company’s website, which range from other politicians in Louisiana to political customers in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and North Carolina, among others.

In September, the New Orleans city council held a hearing on a bill that would have effectively ended cash bail for petty charges. A vote to move the bill out of committee for a full vote of the council failed, 2-to-2.

Boutte, who attended the hearing, is opposed to the ordinance.

One of those voting against the measure was Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, a Boutte client.

The bill’s sponsor, Susan G. Guidry, said she was disappointed by the vote.

“I am getting input from various parties affected by the ordinance and my intention to bring it back up with some slight amendments,” she said.

Guidry declined to discuss the involvement of Boutte in the matter.

Beyond Ramsey, Boutte’s website lists as clients 22 New Orleans judges in addition to the DA and sheriff.

One of them is Magistrate Judge Harry E. Cantrell Jr., whose main job is to set bail in New Orleans.

Cantrell hasn’t taken a public position on cash bail. He has expressed ambivalence about an independent pretrial assessment, saying it is only one of several factors that he would consider when setting bail. He also wants to hear the recommendations of the prosecutor and defense counsel, he said in 2013 when he was first running for the magistrate’s position.

Sources involved in the Louisiana bail process say that Cantrell is known for routinely setting high bails and he rarely releases anyone on a promise to return to court.

Ramsey, Cantrell and Boutte did not respond to emailed questions about their positions on bail or their business relationships.

What then is the impact of Louisiana’s staunch support for bail as a way to assure appearances in court?

One assessment by the Vera Institute, which has been studying the New Orleans jail and court system since 2010, looked at everyone detained before trial whose bail was less than $100,000.

How many couldn’t afford the bail?

Vera says: “One third of the people in jail are there solely because they cannot pay bail set in an amount intended to allow their release.”

Vera then studied the danger those detainees posed if they had been released awaiting trial. Using the risk assessments done by pretrial services to guide the setting of bail, Vera found that 44 percent of those detained on felony charges other than murder, rape or armed robbery on May 10, 2016 were evaluated as “low or low-moderate risk.”

Accused but not proven guilty, they remained jailed in New Orleans.

So will any of this change?

“I have never heard even a murmur of a formal proposal to eliminate money bail or even commercial surety bonding. That’s not surprising, really,” said Jon Wool, director of Vera’s New Orleans office. “I think Louisiana, and everywhere else, will fundamentally change its bail system but I am not sure in what ways and what comes first and whether it happens via litigation or legislation.”

Dysfunction in Maryland

Maryland is a study in contrasts.

The suburbs of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., are among the richest in the nation, teeming with the privileges of the upper class.

At the same time, two pockets of east and west Baltimore are among the nation’s poorest.

And with that poverty comes all the expected dysfunctions, crime among them.

In a stunning report on the Baltimore Police Department, the Justice Department recounted the thousands upon thousands of men and women who were processed through the city’s courthouse and into the main lockup – with some 200 each month being arrested without probable cause.

The Justice Department, which found widespread lapses in record-keeping by police, also estimated that cops may have stopped 412,000 individuals for questioning in 2014 alone.

The riots that swept the city after the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 were evidence of residents’ deep anger over their treatment by local police and criminal justice system.

For decades, the relations between police and the community might charitably be described as strained.

With some regularity over the last 15 years, the advocates of ending money bail in Maryland have tried to do away with the state’s bail system.

These advocates see bail as unfair and unconstitutional, one more way the criminal justice system treats groups inequitably.

So far, efforts to eliminate money bail have fallen flat.

Enter Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh.

On October 25, Frosh asked the state’s administrative court rules committee to make changes that insure that money bail is not used to detain the poor.

His request essentially side-stepped the legislature, which has been influenced by the considerable lobbying power of the bail industry.

“Jailing people who should otherwise be released because they are unable to pay bail is out of step with state and federal law and with the basic concepts of liberty and justice,“ Frosh wrote.

State Delegate Kathleen M. Dumais, who is a co-sponsor on a measure that would do what Frosh hopes to accomplish, said the reaction from bail advocates has been immediate and decidedly negative.

She and her colleagues have gotten hundreds of calls since Frosh’s letter was made public in late October. “I received 20 calls today,” Dumais said on November 17.

It’s little wonder.

Once a year for several years, the Maryland Bail Bond Association has spent thousands of dollars to take the entire judiciary committee of the House of Delegates to swanky meals at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse or the Annapolis Yacht Club.

This year the event cost the association $3,256, the cheapest outlay for the annual event since 2012.

The organizing lobbyist Michael Canning did not respond to emailed questions about the events.

Clayton of the American Bail Coalition, fresh from his work in New Mexico, is now ready to do combat in Maryland.

“We are fighting the Maryland Attorney General’s effort, which is based in part on a letter he received from Eric Holder,” Clayton said.

In March, before he left the Department of Justice, Holder wrote to officials in 50 states urging them to protect the indigent.

“Courts must not employ bail or bond practices that cause indigent defendants to remain incarcerated solely because they cannot afford to pay for their release,” Holder wrote.

Delegate Dumais doesn’t think change will be quick.

Dumais promised to introduce legislation in 2017 to “strengthen, not outlaw” bail.

Just how different any measure might be, however, is at the heart of any debate in Maryland’s future. And it’s likely to be intense.

The Feds React

As the struggle over fixing bail confronts local officials across the nation, federal action too is possible.

Already, Congressman Ted Lieu, whose district encompasses Los Angeles, has introduced what he calls the No Money Bail Act of 2016.

The measure was referred to committee and no action has been taken.

But just introducing the bill was enough to produce hysterics from the bail industry.

“The bail industry is under attack!” the Professional Bail Agents of the United States said in a statement.

“The introduction of [the bill] should serve as a wake-up call for the commercial bail industry,” the group continued. “[O]ur opponents are boldly and unapologetically calling for the elimination of our industry.”

This story appeared earlier this month in Injustice Watch. The Crime Report is pleased to reprint it here as part of its member-network collaboration with the Institute for Nonprofit News INN). Readers’ comments are welcome.



from http://thecrimereport.org