The reasons for the need for criminal justice reform in the U.S. are many and varied. Most, however, are related to issues of poverty, substance abuse, and mental health. And while much too little is being done to fight the opioid crisis in the U.S., in North Dakota plenty is being spent on dismantling money bail.
That the crusaders looking to abolish money bail are being quite selective in their alleged do-gooding is fairly well established. But sometimes it bears mentioning, over and over again, how much time, effort, energy, and money are being put into reforming bail even as Rome burns around us.
Let’s Spend Some Taxpayer Money
Interestingly, the most effective means of “fixing” what’s broken in the U.S. criminal justice system is likely early education, which has a 6:1 return on spending. But, even as that rings true, North Dakota is spending $750,000 to start a pretrial services project. That project will serve as a study of sorts to determine how it may be implemented in the future, with the expectation that those doing the study will find that more money is needed (so they can be hired to implement their recommendations, of course).
HB 1258 – What’s in It?
Pretty much the standard play, which has already proven ineffective around the country, including right here in Maryland. Government employees will administer an algorithm that will, in turn, let a judge know whether to release a defendant pending trial. Across the country, similar approaches – intended to reduce jail crowding – are resulting in MORE people being held pending trial. If the point is to keep more folks in jail, then this is a great first step. Alas, that is not the intent.
Risk Assessment in the Eye of the Beholder?
The risk assessment algorithm is supposed to tell us if a suspect is a flight risk or a danger to society. But those who were vehemently opposed to cash bail and now also vehemently opposed to the alternative that was put in place in various states around the country. Notes David Robinson, managing director for Upturn:
“People need to stop and ask, ’risk of what?’ These tools use data about things like failed drug tests and missed court dates, and tempt judges to imagine that they predict a person’s chance of hurting someone else, or fleeing the jurisdiction. The data we have cannot answer the questions that truly matter at a bail hearing.”
It turns out, however, that judges in North Dakota (and elsewhere) often don’t have all the information they need to make determinations. Somehow, the algos apparently do – why not get that to the judges so they can do their job?
Why do that, however, when you can start a government study, spend $750,000, and go to the taxpayer till again in the future to fund even more studies and initiatives?