An op-ed from leading thinkers in statistics, data science and law explains the fundamental problems with pre-trial risk assessments:
“Applying ‘big data’ forecasting to our existing criminal justice practices is not just inadequate — it also risks cementing the irrational fears and flawed logic of mass incarceration behind a veneer of scientific objectivity.”
A study released by the Center for Court Innovation last week offers further proof that pretrial risk-assessments tools—which some states have turned to in place of cash bail—assign higher risk scores to Black people compared to white, meaning the former are more likely to remain incarcerated where risk assessments are used.
While others have made similar observations, the study adds value to the discussion because it suggests this kind of racism is intrinsic to the risk assessment model by design, and not particular to just one or a handful of assessments.
I’m thrilled to be sharing an update about our work in St. Louis, MO.
As you may know, St. Louis was The Bail Project’s first site. From the beginning, a key goal of our work here was to decarcerate and close The Workhouse, a jail in St. Louis City where nearly everybody is detained before trial and over 90 percent of the people are Black.
The Workhouse is notorious for its horrible conditions – rats, snakes, roaches, overflowing sewage, inadequate medical care, no heat or air conditioning, even on 125 degree days. If there’s a place that will make you throw the towel and take a guilty plea, it’s this jail.
We knew the Workhouse had to close, and that it would take different tactics to make it happen. So, along with our partners Action STL and ArchCity Defenders, we helped start a coalition to Close the Workhouse last year. Bailouts, organizing, public education, storytelling, and civil rights litigation – the coalition combined them all into one powerful movement for equal justice and true freedom, led by people who have been incarcerated at the Workhouse themselves.
One year later, this dream is within reach. Tireless organizing from our community has shifted public opinion in favor of closing the Workhouse, and the success of our St. Louis team in bailing out over 700 people from the Workhouse and providing them with adequate pretrial support has demonstrated that our model offers a viable alternative to cash bail and pretrial detention.
I’m so proud and humbled that our team has been a part of Close the Workhouse. You can learn more about the campaign in the latest episode of BET’s ‘Finding Justice’, which aired over the weekend. The segment features interviews with many of our fellow activists and clients.
We still have a ways to go. There are still about 800 people – overwhelmingly Black people – incarcerated pretrial in St. Louis City. Closing the Workhouse will be a necessary first step in helping us find justice. I look forward to the day I can write back with news that this jail has finally closed its doors forever.
In the meantime, I’ll pass along this shout-out, as it belongs not only to our teams but to everyone who makes The Bail Project possible!