With Messaging Month on the University of Pretrial nearly over, we decided to take the occasion of Halloween to discuss some of the scary language that some people use to stall, or even to reverse, pretrial reform. First, we will shine a light on these terms. Then we’ll talk about what we find truly horrifying.
- “Black box algorithm” is a popular term, making pretrial assessments seem mysterious and inaccessible. Here’s the thing, though: not all assessments are created equal. The best pretrial assessments—and the only ones that courts should use—are transparent and publicly available. Properly implemented pretrial assessments have helped demonstrate, in places like Yakima County, Wash., that pretrial release is the most commonsense option and that reduced rates of pretrial detention do not change public safety or court appearance rates.
- “Skin in the game” is genuinely Halloween creepy, and there’s no evidence to support claims that skin in the game—money—gets folks to court. However, studies show that unsecured bonds (which do not require payment to obtain release) perform just as well as secured bonds, and that court notification programs do a good job increasing court appearance.
- RIP “Risk”! We know from statistical studies that the overwhelming number of arrested people are likely to succeed while awaiting trial: They make their court dates and are not arrested on new charges. That’s why there’s no “risk” in PJI’s preferred term, pretrial assessments.