Issue Brief

Data Analysis Pretrial and Bail Racial Disparities December 12, 2019

Civil Rights and Pretrial Risk Assessment Instruments

David G. Robinson and Logan Koepke Upturn, Inc.

Jurisdictions across the United States are considering or starting to implement pretrial risk assessment instruments, yet many civil rights advocates argue that such instruments should play no role at all in pretrial administration. They further argue that, where pretrial risk assessment instruments remain in use, such instruments be carefully circumscribed in order to be made legally, morally, and practically defensible.

This brief answers two questions. First: Why do many in the civil rights community oppose the use of pretrial risk assessment instruments? Second: What concrete reform strategies are available that would avoid risk assessment instruments, or would sharply limit their role? With or without pretrial risk assessment instruments, there are powerful policy levers available that can address mass pretrial incarceration, replace the for-profit bail industry, and make progress toward racial equity.

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