The Arnold Foundation Risk Assessment Fails the Test of an Effective Tool

Statement by united bail of america executive director don mescia

CHARLESTON, S.C., OCTOBER 16, 2017 -- Last week Harvard Law convened a panel to discuss risk assessment tools and their impact on the criminal justice system.

According to the criteria laid out by the expert panel, the Arnold Foundation’s tool violates nearly every accepted practice for using this type of risk assessment tool. The proponents of the Arnold Foundation risk assessment should watch every minute of this one-hour discussion.

The experts convened laid out the case for good data going into any tool. They stressed the need for transparency on how any tool like this would work. They emphasized how, at this time, we need judges to work with these types of tools and not rely on them exclusively for decision-making. They talked the dangers of these tools possibly not keeping up with trends and changes in how laws are administered. In short, they made a convincing argument that tools such as this are still a long way off from being an effective solution for determining risk, the very problem they were created to solve. The experts also made the compelling and shockingly obvious argument that any tool that taxpayers are funding, like the Arnold Foundation tool, should be transparent so that taxpayers know exactly what they are paying for.

The panel made a very appropriate analogy to what is currently happening in the criminal justice system. Imagine that instead of listening to your doctor, you simply fed incomplete data into a computer that only knew part of your medical history. Imagine that the computer told you what medicine to take and then you were forced to take that medicine. No one would ever do that. But that’s exactly what the communities relying on the Arnold Foundation are doing every day. People’s lives are being changed forever by a tool with incomplete data that no one except the Arnold Foundation understands and we’re all expected to be ok with this.