The Real World and The Failure of “Bail Assessment Tools”

By Eric W. Siddall

How many people will have to die before the Arnold Foundation‘s “risk assessment tool” is dumped in the trash?

If you aren’t following “bail reform,” you may not be aware it relies upon a “risk assessment tool” to determine who should be detained on bail before trial. This algorithm makes a determination on which candidates should post bail. The Arnold Foundation is one of the main proponents of this system-not surprisingly because its founder was a hedge fund manager-and many hedge funds rely upon algorithms to determine their investments. They brag that their “risk assessment tool” is the cutting edge tool providing an objective assessment in this area, with their chief developer boasting she wanted to “Moneyball criminal justice“. Unfortunately they are more akin to Bernie Madoff.

The Arnold tool has led to the massive release of violent criminals and tragic results. Three recent events should be a warning sign for us all before we start giving up on judges and rely upon a Madoff worldview.

In New Mexico, a story noted the Arnold Foundation assessment tool has led to virtually every defendant arrested for a violent crime being released without bail. “Even with the highest rate of failing to appear in court and the highest rate of new criminal activity for a defendant, the tool still recommends that person be released on their own recognizance unless the prosecutors have filed for preventative detention.”

In New Jersey, the Arnold Foundation tool determined that a man jailed for illegally possessing a gun was not a danger and recommended his release. Days later, that man hunted down a rival and shot at him 22 times, killing him. The family of the victim is now suing the Arnold Foundation, amongst others, for the death.

In San Francisco, Mr. Mims, who was arrested for the murder of Edward French, was released days before the slaying after being arrested for possession of two guns and despite being on probation for burglary. Relying on the assessment tool, the judge rejected the deputy district attorney’s recommendation that the man be kept in jail on a probation violation. A spokesman for the San Francisco District Attorney’s office noted use of the tool has caused “many instances of contention.” Contention! Tell that to Mr. French. Of course, we should not expect too much criticism from the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office since it was their DA, Gascon, who supported this public safety debacle.

It is brutally ironic that the Arnold Foundation argument for the use of their tool included the following passage: “failing to appropriately determine the level of risk that a defendant poses impacts future crime and violence, and carries enormous costs -both human and financial.” The use of the Arnold Foundation “risk assessment tool” in New Mexico, New Jersey, and San Francisco certainly attests to the truth of that statement.

Eric W. Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.

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