A new report evaluates the impact of Mecklenburg County’s bail reforms. Cindy Redcross et al., MDRC Center for Criminal Justice Research, Evaluation of Pretrial Justice System Reforms That Use the Public Safety Assessment: Effects in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina (2019) [hereinafter Evaluation]. The big take away? Mecklenburg released more defendants but did not see a significant increase in failures to appear (FTAs) or new criminal charges during the pretrial period. Id. at 2. Read on for details.
Risk assessment tools are starting to take root in the criminal justice system. They’re used to make decisions about pretrial release, sentencing, and the level of supervision or custody to which a defendant will be subject. Some of the results are encouraging. For example, Mecklenburg County uses a risk assessment developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation to help make pretrial release decisions. The pretrial services office there reports that the risk assessment has contributed to “transformational change” in how pretrial justice is administered, with fewer secured bonds being imposed the jail population falling with no harm to public safety. Based in part on Mecklenburg’s success, the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice encouraged the creation of a pilot project that would “implement and assess more broadly . . . an empirically derived pretrial risk assessment tool.”