February 15 Thursday

Zombie Predictions and the Future of Bail Reform

  • Thursday, February 15, 2018 at 2:00PM - 3:00PM
  • Hall of Gradutate Studies 119
  • Open To The YLS Community Only
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Please join the Information Society Project and the Yale Law & Technology Society for a discussion with Upturn's David Robinson and John Logan Koepke, who will present their upcoming paper "Zombie Predictions and the Future of Bail Reform." From the abstract:

"In the last five years, legislatures in all fifty states have made changes to their pretrial justice systems. Most aim to shrink jails by incarcerating fewer poor, low-risk defendants. The goal is to make risk, rather than wealth, the key determinant of bail decisions for all defendants, reserving incarceration for those most likely to skip bail or to threaten the public if released. At the same time, jurisdictions around the country are exploring new ways to reduce the risks associated with releasing defendants, so that more will become suitable for release.

Predicting risk is the linchpin of these reform efforts, and many jurisdictions are now adopting statistical tools that leverage historical data to forecast which defendants can safely be released. Such tools are often integral to the political bargain that lets other bail reforms proceed, since they boost policymakers’ confidence that dangerous defendants will stay behind bars.

But there is a stark and unfortunate irony at the heart of these developments. At the same moment jurisdictions adopt liberal policies that reduce the true risks of pretrial release, jurisdictions across the country are also adopting statistical tools that will blindly predict such risks remain as high as ever. In other words, today’s predictions are based on yesterday’s patterns. While most reform policies work to reduce the risks associated with releasing a defendant, today’s actuarial tools are built on the opposite assumption: that the risks associated with release are unchanged, and will match the patterns observed in earlier populations. Without the right set of policies and practices, pretrial risk assessment systems will likely overstate risk, diminish the apparent impact of genuinely helpful reforms, and needlessly incarcerate people who could safely be released.

To avoid these harms, jurisdictions must tailor their risk assessments based on recent, local data, comparing predictions against subsequent outcomes to keep their predictions on target. If they fail to do so, then the current attempts at bail reform may become one more chapter in a history of failed reform efforts and unintended consequences that is nearly as old as money bail itself."

Coffee and donuts will be served.

Sponsoring Organization(s)

Information Society Project (ISP); Yale Law & Technology Society (TechSoc)