Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Risk assessments, local buy-in, key to reducing pretrial detention

San Angelo Live! has a nice little article on pretrial detention in Tom Green County, where about 70 percent of jail inmates are being held pretrial without yet having been convicted. "As a result, the average cost to Tom Green taxpayers to incarcerate the entire TGCJ pretrial population is about $15,694 per day on average."

David Slayton of the Office of Court Administration told the reporter that a committee convened by the Texas Judicial Council "reviewed national research last fall on this issue that shows when defendants are low risk their chances of reoffending later increases every day they remain in jail. 'In other words, it makes them worse,' he said. 'That’s obviously counter to what the judges want happening. That’s counter to what society at large wants.'"
Slayton said there’s also all the side issues that come with an individual who is too poor to make bond.

“They’re probably just making it, so they’re losing their job, their house, their car, maybe losing family, and it creates issues with child support and divorces,” he stated. "The societal problems just compound.”
The solution, Slayton told the reporter, is for courts to use risk assessments and to give low-risk defendants more personal bonds:
Slayton said the [Judicial Council] Committee’s trying to provide risk-assessment information to judges so they can make better decisions on an ongoing basis.

“With that respect, if judges have that information, they might release people on pre-trial personal bonds,” Slayton said. “Basically, without requiring them to put up cash of some sort, or it would be a low enough bond that the defendant could make. Therefore, we would expect the population of jail to decrease significantly."
And they offered a local judge's perspective on why this hadn't been done before:
Judge Ben Woodward, with the 119th Judicial District Court in Tom Green County, reiterated the concern that the longer a defendant sits in jail, he or she loses a job, family and support.

Woodward said Tom Green County judges looked into a process where someone would interview people when they came to jail and make a determination if they had a drug addiction, to perhaps expedite that case because that person needed to be in treatment, as opposed to sitting in jail.

"So those need to be expedited," he said. "That requires manpower that we don’t have, and requires some cooperation among a lot of people involved: the jail, all the attorneys, district attorneys, defense attorneys, and we don’t have that system set up right now. I’d like to see something like that."

Woodward added that the judges made an attempt at this several years ago, but they tried to implement it before they got all the attorneys and district attorneys on board. “They weren’t familiar with what we were trying to accomplish, and without everybody being comfortable with what we’re trying to do, it just didn’t go anywhere. Maybe, one day, we could try it again," Woodward said.


mapi said...

The dangers of Risk Assessments are all too real!

Everyone's home is being given a color coded threat rating based on pizza deliveries!

The Crime You Have Not Yet Committed

The new way police are surveilling you: Calculating your threat ‘score’

Americans are assigned “risk assessments” while travelling inside the US:

American students are given threat assessments:

Prisoners To Be Denied Parole Based On A Risk Assessment:

Risk assessments are being used to sentence people to jail and death:

Universities are using data analytics to assess students mental health and much more:

Gritsforbreakfast said...

We're talking about risk assessments to decide whether to let already arrested people out of jail pretrial, not the Pre-Crime Division from Minority Report. BIG difference.

Also the link you give on parole, which is the only relevant one to this discussion, says the opposite of what you claim: Risk assessments on the parole side tend to increase parole rates. (E.g., "risk assessments have drawn the praise of officials across the nation who point to them as a way of reducing prison populations and cutting incarceration costs.") They're also not ever the sole factor, parole board still has discretion.

Anonymous said...

I'm encouraged by the work of the Arnold Foundation in Houston on this very issue. They've got the resources and the brain power to create an evidence-based tool. In fact, it's being rolled out in Kentucky and other jurisdictions for evaluation. Maybe Tom Green County would like to sign up to test it.

Anonymous said...

Here is an issue with the who Pre-Trial Bond Risk Assessment situation. Who is going to supervise these released individuals? Adult Probation? Are Commissioner's Courts or is the Community Justice Assistance Division going to fund supervision of pre-trial defendants?

Adult Probation just recently has done an overhaul with risk assessments, not for pre-trial, but for post trial. That assessment is known as the Texas Risk Assessment System and is modeled after the Ohio Risk Assessment System. The implementation of this overhaul took quite some time, and in many person's opinion probably hasn't made any difference whatsoever in the supervision of the adult offender.Having adult probation in Texas go through another overhaul with risk assessments for pre-trial will be too taxing on the system. Probably, the State won't support such an endeavor, and most certainly won't venture anywhere near such a process unless forced to because of legislation.

Will that legislation include additional funding for supervision of pre-trial defendants? Will it be just another unfunded mandate? Presently, Adult Probation does not receive funding from the State for Pre-Trial Supervision. In fact, if Adult Probation does supervise a person who is released pre-trial, the State doesn't even require an assessment. Why? Probably because the person is innocent until proven guilty. So, who will pay the cost? The person released on pre-trial? How fair is that? They are still innocent.

Another issue -- What about the person in jail with a low risk assessment but the accusation of a heinous crime? Will that person be released? The assessment isn't about the crime, it's about the total person and their risk of committing another crime. Will a judge allow release from jail just because of a risk assessment?

Another issue. When will there be science behind the plea agreement process? If the risk assessment is scientifically based, why isn't the assessment taken into consideration during negotiation, during trial, at sentencing?

It doesn't matter how many assessments are validated. There simply is not enough money being appropriated. Also, there are too many values of elected officials getting in the way of utilizing an assessment process to its fullest potential.

Anonymous said...

Cscd cannot use state funds to supervise pretrial. The cscd financial manual specifically prohibits this. The counties will need to cough up money and send to cscd if they want
Cscd to do this.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@1:46, I totally agree about the Arnold Foundation. Their work has been a major bright spot over the last few years, particularly on this issue.

@3:55: The assumption that pretrial defendants need extensive supervision IMO is overreach. The issue is whether they'll show up for trial. If they're so dangerous they need extensive supervision, don't release them. Most can be released and the main supervision they need are reminders to show up for court, maybe a ride if they don't have one, etc.. All the crap about drug testing them, etc., is latter-day tuff-on-crime foolishness that IMO is not justified either from a public safety perspective or under the constitutional justifications for bail. See this oldie-but-a-goodie post for more such analysis.

I agree with 5:57 this is not a role for CSCDs.

Re: people with low risk assessments who committed a heinous crime, bail is not punishment. The assumptions behind your question are messed up and at root, unconstitutional. Regardless of my opinion, there will always be judges who refuse to release low-risk defendants convicted of heinous crimes regardless of constitutionality. I think they're wrong, but they'll still have that discretion.

That said, while I think your assumptions around the bail questions are flawed, your point on plea bargaining is an excellent one and something I've given a lot of thought to over the years. Getting to "scientific" pleas is so far from where we are it's very hard to imagine. But I think increasing pretrial release will reduce the maximal discretion of DAs behind pleas because defendants will be able to reject first offers without that being a choice to sit in jail, so that will help balance the scales somewhat in negotiations. And there need to be sentence adjustments so the hammer prosecutors wield, especially for lower level assaults and nonviolent offenses, isn't so great.

Prosecutor discretion has been maximized so limiting it to an extent significant enough to fix the problem is hard to envision. A scientific method at the parole board is more likely and is probably the best, immediately available antidote to excessive pleas. It's a very worthy topic for discussion, in any event, thanks for raising it.

Anonymous said...

Counties need to step up and push their reps at the Lege to fund Pre-Trial Services departments in every county. Right now, most counties without a PTS are relying on CSCDs to fill this role, especially for interlock bond supervision. If a county wants to utilize a CSCD for this role, that's perfectly acceptable, so long as they pay for it. In my own county, the sole pre-trial officer's salary relies on defendants on supervision paying their monthly supervision fees. Not a very smart way to run this given that CSCD funds from CJAD can't be used to fill the salary gap should the number of defendants on supervision decrease or defendants stop paying their fees. It's not that difficult to put these mechanisms into place. These things exist in other places outside of Texas (maybe that's why there's no desire to do anything, who knows?). From what I hear, New York doesn't do this, so maybe that can be used to push our politicians into action so they can then tour the country shouting, "Hey, look me over! I did something different that those horrible New York liberals don't do, you should follow me!" But I jest.

mapi said...

It doesn't surprise me to read everyone's pro-risk assessment comments. Risk assessments are JUNK SCIENCE pure and simple. I'm a former private investigator who has spent years writing articles debunking risk assessments. The only people who are for it seem to be those who stand to profit from it, the last thing America needs is MORE people in prison.

Anonymous said...


Please re-read the fourth paragraph in your 6:42 comment. I think you mean "charged" not "convicted". I should hope judges would refuse to release low-risk defendants who have been convicted heinous crimes.
Those who have just been charged should be released on bond as long as they make court dates.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Texas Yankee, I definitely meant charged, my bad. This post is about risk assessments pretrial to determine eligibility for release on bail.

At mapi, please address my comments above (with the caveat offered to Texas Yankee) or you're just trolling. This is not Minority-Report-style Pre-crime arrests, these are already-arrested people sitting in jail because they can't make bail. Risk assessments will let more of them be released pretrial, not cause more to be incarcerated. Ditto for their use on the parole side. Your other examples and commentary are not relevant to this discussion.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BTW, mapi, how do you imagine I stand to "profit" from pretrial risk assessments?

Anonymous said...

Yes, the FMM prohibits CSCDs from using State Funds to supervise Pre-Trial. That isn't the point. Although it may not be a role for CSCDs, Probation Departments throughout the state of Texas are supervising persons released on bond.

I'm not sure how a release from jail based on a risk assessment will occur without some sort of case manager type of person conducting the risk assessment. That case manager will almost always be a probation officer. I doubt it will be an ADA or someone who works for the Sheriff's Office. You can't have this conversation without talking about probation departments. If it isn't the role of the probation department, who will conduct the risk assessment? Who is going to pay for the risk assessment. Who is going to pay for the person to complete the risk assessment?

Who is the Arnold Foundation Training to complete Risk Assessments? The answer is case managers.

Where do people hear about the Arnold Foundation? They hear about the Foundation at conferences like the Texas Probation Association, American Probation and Parole Association, or Texas Association of Pre-Trial Services; or at a Judicial Advisory Council Meeting.

People other than probation professionals may be hearing about pre-trial risk assessments, but assuredly probation departments are hearing about the pre-trial risk assessments whether risk assessments are a role for them or not.

Judges will always turn to the probation department with matters surrounding release from custody.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I grew up thinking and being told that you were innocent until proven guilty. I can see that there might be a need to arrest a person accused of murder or a person that is a high risk individual but the rest is all about revenue.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

In many cases, 3:40, those case managers work for Pretrial Serivces divisions, not CSCDs