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In Historic Election, California Rejects Risk Assessments; Retains Cash Bail System

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Yesterday, the voters of California were asked to replace the private bail industry with a state program that utilized a risk assessment tool system that has come under question over the last two years as more research has concluded that risk assessments should not be a part of any criminal justice reform.  California voters stuck with the state's traditional cash bail system in this year's balloting, rejecting the law adopted by the state legislature that would have replaced the private industry with a state-wide pretrial release system that at its heart utilized a risk assessment tool.   Voters in California overturned a 2018 law that never went into effect because of a ballot initiative that placed the matter before the voters.  With more than 11 million votes counted, the measure failed Wednesday with 55% opposing and 45% favoring an end to the current bail system.  Therefore, the law will not go into effect. Various groups opposed the law including:  Human Rights Watch, th

October 2020 PBT Newsletter Released- All About Risk Assessments

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  The October Edition of the PBT Quarterly Newsletter.  This edition of the newsletter addresses:   The Four Failures of Risk Assessments: Failure No. 1:  Risk Assessments were Rushed to Use Without Proper Understanding Failure No. 2:  Risk Assessments are Wrong Much of the Time Failure No. 3:  Risk Assessments Set Defendants Up for Failure Failure No. 4:  Risk Assessments are No Longer Worth The Risk

Failure No. 4- Risk Assessments: No Longer Worth the Risk

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Failure No. 4:  Risk Assessments are No Longer Worth the Risk The application of a Risk Assessment Tool into the pretrial criminal justice system was first advocated by reform activists.  It was intended to be an automated tool that would replace the need for using the private bail industry.  Also, some would say that the tool was intended to take away judicial discretion to add more uniformity to the pretrial release process across jurisdictions.  It was intended the tool would tell the court who should be released, who should be detained and who was on the bubble of release or detention.  Further, as the largest technology companies in the world have now demonstrated, the risk assessment tool was rushed and never properly studied before its release. Now how many years later, all of the initial advocates who supported the use of these tools no longer support the use of risk assessment tools.  The reason for this is because numerous studies have been released which document that risk a

Failure No. 3- Risk Assessments: Set Defendants Up For Failure

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Failure No. 3:  Risk Assessments Set Defendants Up For Failure A system that gives a defendant a false sense of security to the extent that the defendant will not be held accountable for their actions is a system that sets the defendant up for failure because the defendant will come to conclude that it is okay to commit further crimes until the total number of crimes or the severity of the crimes grows to such a point that they are facing more substantial penalties.  The Vera Institute recently meet with a group of judges arguing for a greater use of pretrial release bonds.  The representative made the statement that any reform of the criminal justice reform would result in an average failure to appear rate of approximately 40% and this number should be acceptable.  This statement reveals a lot about where the advocates for change are and where they want to go.  People within the Criminal Justice System know that a 40% failure to appear rate would cause substantial damage to the system

Failure No. 2- Risk Assessments: Wrong Much of the Time

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Failure No. 2:  Risk Assessments are Wrong Much of the Time Using an algorithm to make predictions about risk of failure to appear and risk of commiting a new crime is fraught with problems.  As early as 2017, it was pointed out that when big data contains bad data, it can lead to big problems for organizations that use that data.  Nate Silver who makes a living at making predictions after reviewing data has been quoted as saying, "We're not that much smarter than we used to be, even though we have much more information-- and that means the real skill now is learning who to pick out the useful information from all this noise." The issues that cause risk assessment tools to be wrong much of the time fall into two areas:  (1) data issues; and (2) systemic algorithm issues.  The first area that can make risk assessments wrong is when the data that is put into and considered by the risk assessment is incorrect.  These issues fall into several areas.  In jurisdictions where a

Failure No. 1: Risk Assessments Were Rushed to Use Without Proper Understanding

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Failure No. 1:  Risk Assestments Were Rushed to Use Without Proper Understanding A risk assessment uses an algorithm to make predictions about certain groups.  In the area of pretrial risk assessments, the algorithm was touted as the solution to making pretrial release determinations.  The representation was that risk assessments could accurately predict whether an individual is a low, medium or high risk for failing to appear or at risk of re-offending.  The hope or the promise for these tools was that they would allow courts to automatically and quickly determine the status of an individual and more quickly and more accurately make release decisions.   However, the promises of what would be achieved by these pretrial risk assessments never met the real world reality of what they represent.  Risk assessments have not stood the test of time.  The algorithm that is the basis of the pretrial risk assessment tool was intended for a completely different purpose which involved predicting wh

Harris County Prosecutor Alleges Kim Ogg Makes Prosecution Decisions Based on Politics Not Justice

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The situation boiling over at the Harris County District Attorney's Office started months ago, and now, two prosecutors have resigned. Former prosecutor Cheryl Chapell said District Attorney Kim Ogg was unhappy after an internal COVID-19 document leaked, so she started an internal investigation into several employees. "I think it absolutely has a public concern, which is why I even made some of my concerns somewhat public," Chapell told ABC13 on Tuesday. Chapell, who worked at the office since 2013, quit this summer. In her resignation letter she said that Ogg's office went too far in the inquiry, even sending investigators to her home, seizing work-issued electronics and trying to get access to data from her personal cell phone. Chapell said another employee ended up coming forward to confess to the leak. Then, another resignation happened on Labor Day. Jessica Milligan, who worked on the animal cruelty task force, left after more than a decade. Her resignation lette