Senator John Kennedy, who represents Louisiana in the U.S. Senate, recently wrote an opinion piece for Fox News titled, “Bail, bond decisions are being made today with algorithms – that puts your safety at risk.”
He stated that “Algorithms diminish public safety in this country. They ask us to pretend that lengthy arrest records and violent crimes don’t matter. They ask the police to scoop up the bad guys, only for the courts to release them immediately. They turn us into a bad joke.”
Have Risk Assessments Been Marketed As The Panacea For Bail Reform?
Risk assessments have been marketed as the panacea for bail reform nationwide. Risk assessments are designed as a systematic process for evaluating the potential risks involved in future criminal activity or posing a danger to the community. They also determine if a defendant is likely to appear in court. Finally, a risk score is assigned based on such evaluation and recommends if the defendant can safely be released into the community while their case is winding through the criminal justice system.
Risk assessments supposedly take the bias out of the release equation and don’t depend on whether or not someone has the financial means to secure their release. In essence, a fairer pretrial release system. For example, violent offenders would not be recommended for release unless strong conditions are added. In contrast, those charged with non-violent offenses would most likely be recommended for dismissal. This is what those who propose the use of risk assessments would have you believe.
Fact: dangerous and violent offenders have been given shallow assessment risk scores across the country, which ties into a recommendation for release.
Senator Kennedy, in his opinion, stated that the Metropolitan Crime Commission found:
37.6 percent of people arrested for violent felonies in New Orleans during the third and fourth
quarters of 2018 received the lowest risk level score of one; and
That included more than 32 percent of the people arrested for homicide and 36.5 percent of people arrested for rape.
Examples Of Risk Assessment Software Releasing Potentially Dangerous Individuals
Specific examples of defendants released by a low-risk assessment score in Louisiana include:
Alan Parson and Richard Sansbury were charged with a New Orleans pharmacy robbery. Workers were tied up, and a police officer was shot. As a result, they received a risk assessment score of “one.”
Neither Parson nor Sansbury is from Louisiana. They are believed to be part of an Indianapolis gang responsible for pharmacy robberies in multiple states. But a computer algorithm deems them a minimal risk to public safety.
Theron Glover, age 18, currently faces 160 criminal charges in New Orleans, many related to car break-ins and auto theft. He received a risk assessment of “three” after a series of heists.
While out on bail, Glover is suspected of progressing from stealing Honda CRVs to firing into a crowd of people. Four people were injured, and Glover was hauled back to court. The algorithm gave him a risk assessment score of “one.”
A broad coalition of more than 100 civil rights, digital justice, and community-based organizations released a statement highlighting their concerns about using algorithmic-based tools for release decisions. They also stressed that such devices could worsen, not help, racial disparities and allow for further incarceration.
Leave Release Decisions To The Judge
Release decisions should only be made by a judge elected by the citizenry, who will be held accountable for their release decisions. Unfortunately, algorithmic-based risk assessment tools have no such accountability. Instead, they take the human equation out of the release decision without having the full facts on a defendant’s criminal history and any failures to appear.
Victims of crime deserve justice and accountability in the criminal justice system.