What are Risk Assessment Tools?
Explore the basics of risk assessment tools (RATs): what RATs are and how and why these tools are supposed to work.
Understand why many jurisdictions use RATs in the pretrial setting and why community members are concerned about the bias they can embed in pretrial decision-making.
Pretrial risk assessment tools (RATs) can embed racial, gender, and economic bias into the factors they use and the predictions they produce, but they frame those predictions as “science.” RATs have the capacity to vastly over-inflate and over-predict risk.
In order to organize effectively to end pretrial incarceration, we need to understand what goes into these tools and how they impact pretrial decisions.
Risk assessment tools (RATs) fold into the pretrial process in different ways, depending on jurisdiction. Who RATs assess, who does the assessing, when RATs are embedded into the pretrial systems, and the impact RATs have on bail, pretrial release, and e-carceration all vary from place to place.
Supporters of RATs claim RATs will reduce both pretrial jail populations and racial disparities in pretrial detention. But independent studies have shown mixed results, and RATs are not always used as intended.
States and counties are embedding pretrial risk assessments into pretrial decision-making all over the country. As of Fall 2019, our research found at least one pretrial tool in use in every state except Massachusetts, Arkansas, Wyoming, and Mississippi.
Look for your state or county in the map below, then click on the link for more information. You’ll be able to get access to the master spreadsheet with more information on what we learned about RATs and pretrial systems in your county, and to find our summaries of interviews with some pretrial decision-makers nationwide.