Friday, December 23, 2016

Dallas County embracing risk assessments for bail, beefing up mental-health response teams

Dallas County is implementing a couple of significant criminal justice reforms, as described in this Morning News article

On the mental health front, Dallas Fire and Rescue received a $7 million grant from the Meadows Foundation to "launch Rapid Integrated Group Healthcare Teams, or RIGHT care teams, made up of specially trained police officers, paramedics and a mental health clinician. They will respond to crises and seek to de-escalate situations and determine the most appropriate course of action." Grits believes that armed police officers should serve primarily subordinate backup roles in these situations. The person trying to communicate with a mentally ill person they just met needn't complicate matters by carrying a gun.

Perhaps even bigger news: Dallas will begin using risk assessment to decide who gets released from jail: "Once at jail, anyone who is arrested will be screened for mental illness. The jail will send those results to judges to consider when setting bond. The county will also start using a risk assessment tool to arrive at an estimated level of danger and flight risk posed by each defendant."

According to the News, "Defendants' potential release from jail will hinge on mental health and public safety considerations, not just the criminal charges they face and a financial ability to pay bond." Further, "The county is doubling its pretrial staff from five to 10 in January to handle the expected increase in pretrial defendants they need to supervise in the community." Investing in pretrial service staff shows the county is serious. The open question: Will judges use pretrial services staff and abide by their recommendations?

Such changes should add to momentum for state-level bail reform when the 85th Texas Lege meets in January. Members from counties which have already shifted to a risk-assessment model should be less resistant to proposals that they do so from the Texas Judicial Council, which seems to be the direction they're heading.


thelawproject said...

This would be an "Arms length Transaction for me. Junk Science and Weaponized Law Enforcement
are a bad mix no matter how you present it.

Anonymous said...

Can I get a copy of your assessment tool and any guidelines you have? I am working at jail in Oklahoma.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

John, IMO the "junk science" term doesn't apply to risk assessments in the same way it does to forensics. They're not being presented to juries as the results of scientific analysis the way white-coated lab techs did on, say, hair or bite mark analysis. In a PRE-trial setting - as opposed to at sentencing, for example - I'm okay with their use because a) judges are already technically making risk assessments re: defendants except that b) really they just rely on bail schedules. If individualized risk assessments make them individually assess bail for each defendant on their own terms, that's a big improvement. Plus, even where risk assessment models have been alleged to produce disparate outcomes, the disparities were LESS than when judges do it. In a pretrial setting, I'm more sanguine about the use of these instruments than you are, certainly in Texas' specific context.

@10:15, check with the folks in Dallas. Also, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation may be a good resource for you.