Mission: To provide judges with neutral and reliable information about defendants at the start of a criminal proceeding.
Background: In the United States, an inability to come up with bail can put a defendant's job, housing, health care services, and/or custody of children at risk. Indeed, a recent study shows that people who are detained before trial are more likely to plead guilty, be convicted, and re-offend at higher rates than people who make bail. The Laura and John Arnold Foundation set out to determine whether improvements in the process of pretrial release and detention decisions — providing judges with access to neutral, research-based risk assessments instead of a system based solely on a judge's instinct or inflexible bail schedules — could make the system fairer and reduce rearrest rates. To that end, in 2011 the foundation gathered leading criminal justice researchers to design a risk assessment framework based solely on administrative data that could be be made available to jurisdictions across the country at no cost. Researchers subsequently compiled the largest, most diverse set of pretrial records ever assembled — some 750,000 cases from nearly three hundred jurisdictions — and identified nine factors that were found to be most predictive of a defendant's failure to appear in court and/or commit a new crime. Based on those factors, the Public Safety Assessment tool was developed as a way to predict the chances that an individual charged with a crime will fail to appear for a future court appearance, as well as the risk of him/her committing a new crime — including a violent crime — if released before trial. The tool was piloted in 2013 and 2014 in several states, and preliminary data pointed to some positive changes, including a reduction in jail populations and pretrial detentions without an increase in crime.
Outstanding Web Features: Visitors to the Public Safety Assessment site can learn more about the nine risk factors on which the tool is based (i.e., a person's age at the time of arrest, whether the offense is violent, whether the person had a pending charge at the time of the current offense, whether the person has a prior misdemeanor conviction, whether the person has a prior felony conviction, whether the person has failed to appear at a pretrial hearing in the last two years, etc.). Visitors also can explore the research used to develop the tool, see which jurisdictions have already adopted it, review the guide to PSA readiness, and learn more about what they need to implement it. Visitors also are invited to learn more about the project via an FAQ.