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New Tool To Help Judges Decide On Bail Or Not

New Tool To Help Judges Decide On Bail Or Not

Judges To Implement Risk Assessment Model

Judges in Bernalillo County will soon have a new tool to help them decide whether criminal defendants should remain in jail pending their trials, or be let out on bail.

It’s called the Public Safety Assessment risk assessment model, and judges in Metropolitan Court and in state District Court will begin using it on June 12, the Administrative Office of the Courts said Wednesday.

The PSA uses nine factors to produce two risk scores: one measuring the likelihood that an individual will commit a new crime if released pending trial and another evaluating the likelihood that he or she will fail to return for a future court hearing.

The tool also flags defendants that present an elevated risk of committing a violent crime. Risk scores fall on a scale of one to six, with higher scores indicating a greater level of risk. The PSA does not require an interview with a defendant and is more up to date than the risk assessment that the courts have been using since 2015.

While judges can use the PSA to decide whether to keep a defendant in jail, they won’t be bound by its results and will still be able to use their individual judgment and discretion in determining whether to set bail.

“Implementing a cutting-edge risk assessment continues our team effort in Bernalillo County to ensure a fair and effective criminal justice system,” said Second Judicial District Court Chief Judge Nan Nash. “Judges make difficult decisions each day as they follow the law in setting pretrial release conditions for defendants. The PSA will provide judges with reliable, objective information to consider in those decisions.”

The PSA was created by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation in partnership with leading criminal justice researchers; it includes information from 1.5 million criminal cases in approximately 300 jurisdictions across the United States. Researchers analyzed the data and isolated factors that most often exist for defendants who commit a new crime, commit a violent crime, or fail to return to court if released before trial. The factors are:

  • Whether the current offense is violent;
  • Whether the person had a pending charge at the time of the current offenses;
  • Whether the person has a prior misdemeanor conviction;
  • Whether the person has a prior felony conviction;
  • Whether the person has prior convictions for violent crimes;
  • The person’s age at the time of arrest;
  • Whether the person failed to appear at a pretrial hearing more than two years ago;
  • How many times the person failed to appear at a pretrial hearing in the last two years; and
  • Whether the person has previously been sentenced to incarceration.

The PSA is currently being used, or is in the process of being implemented, in approximately 35 jurisdictions across the country, including statewide in Arizona.

Bernalillo County and the other jurisdictions are using the PSA free of charge.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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