Q: I signed up for the newsletter but didn’t get the email confirmation with a link to download the data. What happened?
A: You may have signed up at our Join the Fight list, rather than our data download contact form. Be sure you sign up here to access our data. Also, if you did sign up to get our data but haven’t received an email, check your spam/junk folder in case the email with our data went there.
Q: The RAT you have listed for my jurisdiction is wrong/out of date. How can I get you to change it?
A: Let us know if you have better or more up to date information! We are always looking to improve our data and update our map. Please contact us with any corrections and include sources if you have them.
Q: Where can I find the risk assessment information for my county?
A: You can explore our interactive map on our homepage or National Landscape sections, and click on your county to see what tool is in use. You can also download our database to find out more about your county. If you have more or updated information on a specific jurisdiction, please contact us.
Q: Do you have any data outside the U.S.?
A: Right now, we only have data on the pretrial risk assessments in use in the 50 states. We are eager to learn more about how RATs may be used in Puerto Rico, other U.S. territories, and internationally as well. If you have any information about RATs we don’t have, please contact us!
Q: What should I do after learning a RAT is in use in my jurisdiction?
A: A great next step is to learn more about how the RAT is used and impacts your local population. If we have an interview with your jurisdiction, you can learn more about it by downloading our interview summary.
If you are engaging in a decarceration campaign and are trying to confront risk assessments as part of that fight, check out Community Justice Exchange’s Organizing Guide for Confronting Pretrial Risk Assessment Tools in Decarceration Campaigns. Find more resources on our Get Involved page and contact us if you need help finding local groups.
Q: Who creates risk assessments?
A: Different entities create different tools – some are created when specific jurisdictions contract with university researchers or data scientists to formulate a tool for their city, county, or state. Others are created by non-profit entities, such as Arnold Ventures. Learn more about who developed different tools by downloading our database.
Q: Are pretrial risk assessments really worse than judges? Isn’t some objective technology better than judges alone? Should judges just be making these decisions?
A: We don’t view the issue of pretrial decarceration as a choice between biased judges and biased RATs. We advocate for everyone’s constitutional right of innocence before trial, and believe that we should end pretrial detention. We don’t believe that biased risk assessments help us meet these goals, and neither does keeping the pretrial system the way it is now. Learn more about our argument in our why pretrial RATs don’t solve pretrial injustice section.
Q: Why are these tools becoming more common now? Who is pushing for their use?
A: Risk assessments have been around for decades in some places, but they are being pushed forward now in many places as a solution to ending money bail and shrink overcrowded jails, which are increasingly common demands across the country. Many trade associations, developers of risk assessment tools, judges, and legislators push to use RATs – some encourage jurisdictions to set guardrails around their use, and some provide less guidance or support. As we move towards more smart cities and predictive analytics and technologies, RATs are becoming more and more commonplace.
Learn more about the history of RATs on p. 7 of Community Justice Exchange’s Organizing Guide for Confronting Pretrial Risk Assessment Tools in Decarceration Campaigns.
Read more about why advocates are pushing for these tools in our why jurisdictions choose RATs section.
Q: Do RATs include race as a factor? Which questions asked in risk assessments result in racial disparities?
A: No RATs in our database explicitly include race as a factor to predict risk, and because of the complexities of how risk is calculated, it is difficult if not impossible to say one particular factor or question results in racial disparities. However, race is implicit in every factor that risk assessments use. Learn more in The Criminal Legal Bias and Demographic Bias sections.
Q: Do RATs include questions about immigration status?
A: Most of the RATs in our database do NOT ask about immigration status specifically. However, some RATs do include a factor about citizenship or immigration status – in our database, the Montgomery County tool used in many Maryland counties and the Washington, D.C. tool mention citizenship as a factor. Several other tools include residential stability and local ties to the area, which could link to immigration status, especially for recent immigrants. Learn more by downloading our database.
Q: How do RATs interact with other automated technologies, such as electronic monitoring?
A: RATs may recommend electronic monitoring as a condition of pretrial release. You can read more about this connection in our e-carceration section and through MediaJustice’s #NoDigitalPrisons campaign.
Q: How can I support the further development of this website and dataset?
A: Thanks in advance! If you have any updated information on the data we have, please contact us and let us know. We are always looking to build upon the data we have gathered and keep it as up to date and accurate as possible.
Q: How did you get involved in this research?
A: Media Mobilizing Project has worked at the intersection of technology and racial and economic justice throughout our history. We saw that Philadelphia was discussing building an algorithm for pretrial decision-making in 2015 as part of efforts to reduce our jail population. So, MMP started building relationships with other organizations, mainly those that focus on ending money bail and closing jails, on the issue of risk assessment in our city.
We had to do a lot of digging to find out information about the pretrial risk assessment being proposed and the one already in existence in Philadelphia’s probation system. We soon realized that neither those caught up in the criminal legal system nor the community organizations fighting for justice had a clear understanding of how algorithmic decision-making tools operate.
So we decided to do research and build this website to spread information about what these tools are and how they function, in order to arm organizers and communities with the knowledge they need about how algorithms may impact their local criminal legal systems in the fight to end mass incarceration.